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The Bequest of 






The evil that men Jo lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones. 


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My father practiced on the borders of a forest, and 
when he was called at night to visit a distant patient, 
it was the greatest treat to me, when a little boy, to be 
allowed to saddle my pony and accompany him. I used 
to wonder sometimes what he could see so very disa- 
greeable in that which to me was the greatest possible 
pleasure; for whether we were skirting a bog in the 
darkest night, or cantering over the heather by moon- 
light (the colder the better), I certainly thought there 
could be nobody happier than I and my pony. My 
father knew the forest nearly as well as his own gar- 
den; but still, in passing bogs in impenetrable dark- 
ness, the more refined topography of a forester would 
be necessary ; and it was on one of these occasions that 
I first heard two words, "Meward" and "Abernethy," 
the one from our forester guide, which I have never 
heard since, and the other, which I have heard more 
frequently, perhaps, than any other. The idea I then 
had of Abernethy was that he was a great man who 
lived in London. The next, distinct impression I have 
of him was derived from hearing my father say that a 


lady, who had gone up to London to have an operation 
performed, had been sent by him to Mr. Abernethy, be- 
cause my father did not think the operation necessary 
or proper ; that Mr. Abernethy entirely agreed with 
him, and that the operation was not performed ; that 
the lady had returned home, and was getting well. 
This gave me a notion that Abernethy must be a very 
good as well as a great man. I found that my father 
had studied under him, and his name became a sort of 
household word with us. Circumstances now occurred 
which occupied my mind in a different direction, and 
for some years I thought no more of Abernethy. 

As long as surgery meant riding across a forest with 
my father, holding his horse, or, if he stopped too long, 
seeing if his horse rode as well as my pony, I thought 
it a very agreeable occupation ; but when I found that 
it included many other things, I soon discovered there 
was a profession I liked much better. Some years had 
rolled away, when, one afternoon in October, about the 
year 1816, and somewhat to my own surprise, I found 
myself, about two o'clock, walking down Holborn Hill 
on my way to Mr. Abernethy's opening lecture at St. 
Bartholomew's. Disappointed of being able to follow 
the profession I had chosen, looking on the one I was 
about to adopt with something very much allied to re- 
pulsion, voting every thing in this world flat and un- 
profitable, and painfully depressed in spirits, I took my 
seat at the lecture. 

When Mr. Abernethy entered, I was pleased with the 
expression of his countenance. I almost fancied that 


he could have sympathized with the melancholy with 
which I felt oppressed. When he commenced, I listen- 
ed with some attention; as he went on, I began even 
to feel some pleasure; as he proceeded, I found myself 
entertained; and before he concluded, was delighted. 
What an agreeable, happy man he seems ! What a fine 
profession! What would I give now to know as much 
as he does ! Well, I will see what I can do. In short, 
I was converted. 

Years again rolled on ; I found myself in practice. 
Now I had an opportunity of proving the truth and ex- 
cellence of the beautiful principles I had been taught. 
I found how truthful had been his representations of 
them. I was, however, grieved to find that his opinions 
and views were very much misunderstood and misrep- 
resented, and I had very frequent opportunities of see- 
ing how much this restricted their application and 
abridged their utility. 

Some few years after his death, I tried to induce 
some one to endeavor to correct the erroneous impres- 
sions which prevailed in regard to him ; but to do Aber- 
nethy full justice would require a republication of his 
tvorks, with an elaborate commentary. This was a 
task involving too much time, labor, and expense for 
any individual to undertake ; while any thing less, how- 
ever useful or instructive to the public, must necessa- 
rily subject the author to a criticism which few are dis- 
posed to encounter. 

But as it appeared t» me that scruples like these 
stood in the way of that which was alike just to the 


memory of Abernethy and useful to the public, I was 
resolved, at all hazards, to undertake at least a memoir 
myself. I shall say little of the difficulties of the task. 
I feel them to have been onerous, and I believe them 
to have been, in some respects, unexampled. 

Apologies for imperfections in works which we are 
not obliged to write are seldom valued : the public very 
sensibly take a work for what it is worth, and are ul- 
timately seldom wrong in their decision. I have only 
said thus much, not in deprecation of criticism so much 
as to show that I have not shrunk from what I deem- 
ed just and useful on account of the somewhat oppress- 
ive sense I entertain of the risk or difficulty which it 

The scientific reader may, I fear, think that, in en- 
deavoring to avoid too tedious a gravity, I may some- 
times have been forgetful of the dignity of biographical 
memoir ; but in the difficulty of having to treat of sub- 
jects which, however important, are not always of the 
most popular kind, I have been obliged sometimes to 
think of the " quid vetat ridentem." In the very del- 
icate task of discussing subjects relating to some of 
my contemporaries, I have endeavored simply to do 
Abernethy justice ; and beyond what is necessary for 
that purpose, have avoided any quotations or other mat- 
ter calculated unnecessarily to revive or rekindle im- 
pressions which may as well be dismissed or forgotten. 
It may appear to some that, in my remarks on the 
present state of professional affairs, I may have been 
too free. I can only say that I have stated exactly 

PREFACE. v ii 

what I feel. I am earnestly desirous of seeing a bet- 
ter state of things, but I have no idea that we can 
materially improve that which we are afraid to ex- 

I have to express my warmest thanks to several gen- 
tlemen for the readiness with which they have contrib- 
uted their assistance ; my most grateful acknowledg- 
ments to my respected friend, Mr. Fowler, of Datchet, 
and his son, Mr. Alfred Fowler, Mr. Thacker and Mr. 
Tumtnins, of Wolverhampton — three of them being old 
school-fellows of Abernethy's ; to Mr. White, the distin- 
guished head master of Wolverhampton School, whose 
acceptable services have been further enhanced by the 
ready kindness with which they were contributed ; to 
Mr. Belfour, the Secretary of the Royal College of Sur- 
geons, and Mr. Stone, the librarian, I have to express 
my best thanks for their kind assistance, and to the 
latter especially for many very acceptable contribu- 

I have also to acknowledge the kind interest taken 
in the work by Mr. Wood, of Rochdale, Mr. Stowe, of 
Buckingham, old and distinguished pupils of Abernethy. 
My best thanks are also due to Dr. Nixon, of Antrim, 
not only for his own contributions, but still more for 
the personal trouble he was so kind as to take in rela- 
tion to some particulars concerning the ancestors of Mr. 
Abernethy; as also to Mr. Chevasse, of Little Coldfield, 
for very acceptable communications ; to Mr. Preston, 
of Norwich. I have also to express my obligation to 
several gentlemen whom I have consulted at various 

viii PREFACE. 

times. My thanks are specially due to Professor Owen. 
My old friends and fellow-pupils, Mr. Lloyd, Dr. Barnet, 
Mr. Skey, and Mr. Wellbank, have shown as much in- 
terest as their opportunities allowed them, and deserve 
my best thanks. 



" The Author of Nature appears deliberate throughout His opera- 
tions, accomplishing His natural ends by slow, successive steps. And 
there is a plan of things beforehand laid out, which, from the nature 
of it, requires various systems of means, as well as length of time, in 
order to the carrying on its several parts into execution." — Butler's 

A retrospect of the history of human knowledge 
offers to our contemplation few things of deeper inter- 
est than the evidence it so repeatedly affords of some 
great law which regulates the gradual development of 
truth, and determines the Progress of Scientific Dis- 

Although knowledge has at times appeared to ex- 
hibit something of uniformity in its advances, yet it 
can not have escaped the least observant that, as a 
whole, the Progress of Science has been marked by very 
variable activity. At one time marvelously rapid ; at 
another, indefinitely slow; now merged in darkness or 
obscurity, and now blazing forth with meridian splen- 

We observe a series of epochs divided by intervals 
of great apparent regularity — intervals which we can 
neither calculate nor explain — but which, nevertheless, 
exhibit a periodicity, which the very irregularity serves 
to render striking and impressive. 



"We may remark, also, a peculiar fitness in the minds 
of those to whom the successive enunciation of truth 
has been intrusted : a fitness, not merely for the tasks 
which have been respectively assigned to each in the 
special mission of the individual, but also in the col- 
lective relations of different minds to each other. This 
adaptation to ends which different minds have uncon- 
sciously combined to accomplish, might be illustrated 
by very many examples, from the earliest records of 
antiquity down to our own times. This would be in- 
compatible with our present purpose; we will, there- 
fore, only refer to one or two examples, which, as being 
familiar, will serve to illustrate our meaning, and to 
lead us, not unnaturally, to our more immediate object. 

We can hardly contemplate men like Bacon, Gali- 
leo, and Kepler, for example, without feeling how au- 
spicious the precession of such minds must have been 
to the development of the genius of Newton.* It will 
be observed that Newton was born the same year that 
Galileo died. There is something very interesting and 
significant, too, in the peculiar powers of Kepler. Pro- 
lific in suggestion, great in mathematical ability, elab- 
orate in analysis, and singularly truthful in spirit, Kep- 
ler exemplified two things very distinct from each oth- 
er, but both equally instructive, both alike suggestive 
of the link he represenled in the chain of progress. In 
the laws he discovered, he showed the harvest seldom 
withheld from the earnest search for truth, while in 

Born - Died. 

* Galileo 1564 1642 

Kepler 1571 1630 

Bacon 15G1 162 g 

Newton 1642 a V1Z7 

■ The same year that Galileo died. 


the limit prescribed to his discoveries, he exemplified 
the vast additional labor, and the comparative short- 
coming of the greatest minds when proceeding too 
much on hypothesis. Now it is interesting to remem- 
ber that this was coincident with the dawning of that 
glorious light, the inductive philosophy of Bacon, and 
shortly succeeded by the splendid generalization of 

In like manner, if we think of the discoveries of Sir 
Humphrey Davy — their nature and relations to phys- 
iology as well as chemistry, we see how much there 
might have been that was preparatory, and to a mind 
like Davy's, suggestive, in the investigations of preced- 
ing and contemporaneous philosophers. Priestley had 
discovered oxygen gas, Galvani and Volta had shown 
those remarkable phenomena — that powerful branch 
of knowledge which we term a voltaic electricity, Ber- 
zelius had effected the decomposition of certain salts 
by the voltaic pile, and Lavoisier had even predicted 
as probable what Davy was destined to demonstrate.* 

In medical science few things have been more talk- 
ed of than the discovery of the circulation of the blood. 
Now it is curious to observe that every fact essential 
to the demonstration of it had been discovered by pre- 
vious investigators,! but no one had deduced from 

Born. Died. 

* Priestley 1733 1804 

Galvani 1737 1798 

Volta 1745 1826 

Lavoisier 1743 1794 

Craaford 1749 1795 

Hunter 1728 1793 

Davy 1778 1829 

t The valvular contrivances in the veins and heart, which .show- 
ed that the hlood could only move in one direction, had been either 


them the discovery of the circulation until Harvey, al- 
though it was a conclusion scarcely more important 
than obvious. 

There is surely something very encouraging in the 
reflection that the advance of knowledge results from 
the accumulated labors of successive minds. It sug- 
gests that however unequally the honors may appear 
to be distributed — however humble in our eyes the 
function of those who unconsciously prepare the way 
to great discoveries, still it may involve a duty no less 
important than the more lofty mission of enunciating 

Humanly speaking, we naturally ascribe discoveries 
to those who have practically demonstrated them; but 
when we examine all the clews which have been fur- 
nished by previous observers, we frequently have mis- 
givings as to the justice of our decisions. In our ad- 
miration of the successful labor of the recent inquirer, 
we sometimes forget the patient industry of the early 
pioneer. With regard to those laws which govern the 
human body, we can not suppose that the development 
of them can be destined to progress on any plan less 
determined than other branches of human inquiry. 
But in all laws of nature, we know that there are in- 
terferences which, until explained, serve to obscure or 
altogether to conceal the law from our view. 

In relation to the Physiological laws, these interfer- 
ences are very numerous. 1st. Many are furnished 
by the physical laws, many arise from the connection 

observed, described, or their effects respectively remarked on by 
Paul,, Michael Servetus, Realdus Columbus, Andreas Cesal- 
pinus, and especially by Fabricius ab Aquapendente, of whom Harvey 
was a pupil. 


of the physical with the moral laws, and especially 
from the abuse of a (responsible) volition. These in- 
terferences, however, when duly considered, only illus- 
trate the laws they at first obscure ; for the common 
characters of subjects, in which the law is usually ex- 
emplified, are brought out into higher relief by the very 
diversities in the midst of which they occur. The 
progress of mankind at large toward this point is slow, 
but still, we think, plainly perceptible. An individual 
life, indeed, however distinguished, represents a mere 
point in time. It affords little scope for considering, 
much less for estimating the true meaning of various 
events, which nevertheless ultimately prove to have 
had important influence on the progress of knowledge. 

These are world-wide things, which we must survey 
as the geologist does the facts concerning which he in- 
quires. We must endeavor to combine, in one view, 
facts over which long periods of time may have rolled 
away with such as are still passing around us. This 
will frequently suggest designs and relations altogeth- 
er unobservable by the mere abstract inquirer. In the 
course of the following pages, a further opportunity 
may occur for a few remarks on such views — the elab- 
orate discussion of the subject would be altogether 
beyond our present objects. 

It will be our endeavor to point out the position oc- 
cupied by Abernethy in that (as we trust) gradually 
dawning science, to a particular phase of which our 
object and our limits will alike restrict our attention — 
we mean that period when Surgery, having approach- 
ed to something like a zenith as a mere practical art, 
began to exhibit, by slow and almost imperceptible 
degrees, some faint characters of science — a shadowy 


commencement, of a metamorphose, which we believe 
promises to convert (though we fear at a period yet 
distant) a monstrous hybrid of mystery and conject- 
ure into the symmetrical beauty of an inductive sci- 
ence — a science based on axioms and laws, powerfully 
influential to the social progress and to the health of 

In considering Hunter and Abernethy, we shall see 
not only a remarkable adaptation for the tasks in which 
they were respectively engaged, but also how the pe- 
culiar defects of the one were supplied by the charac- 
teristic excellences of the other ; thus co-operating in 
throwing open to us clear and definite objects, which, 
though far as they were from fulfilling the requisitions 
of an inductive science, were eminently calculated to 
lead us to stumble on the necessity of it. 

We no sooner begin to inquire with clear and defin- 
ite purpose, than we are led to the means necessary for 
the attainment of it. 

Abernethy himself, in speaking of the ordinary re- 
sources of daily practice, used to say, " If a man has a 
clear idea of what he desires to do, he will seldom fail 
in selecting the proper means of accomplishing it." 

So, in gathering the materials for building up a sci- 
ence, the first thing is to be clear as to those things 
in which it is deficient. This once determined, all 
may lend assistance ; and this very division of labor, 
when directed with definite purpose, may render even 
men most addicted to narrow and partial inquiries con- 
tributary to a great and common object. 

In this way those blows and discouragements so 
common in the infancy of science, which test our mo- 
tives and try our patience, may prove tolerable when 


distributed over the many, instead of proving, as is too 
common, depressing or destructive to the efforts of the 

If we desire to shorten this labor, we need scarcely 
say there is no way of doing it but by the rigid adop- 
tion of that mode of proceeding to which every other 
branch of science owes its present position. 

I mean the rejection of all hypothesis, setting to 
work by collecting all the facts in relation to the sub- 
ject, and dealing with them in strict compliance with 
the precepts of common sense, or, what is the same 
thing, inductive philosophy. 

This will soon show us the just amount of the debt 
we owe to Hunter and Abernethy ; and, in leading us 
onward, instructively point out why these great men 
did not further increase our obligations. 

We shall see how the industry and circumspection 
of the Argus-eyed Hunter, as Abernethy used to call 
him, enabled him to unfold a legend in nature which 
he had neither length of days, sufficient opportunity, 
nor perhaps aptitude wholly to decipher, and how far 
it was developed into practical usefulness by the pene- 
trative sagacity and happy genius of Abernethy, which, 
like light in darkness, guides and sustains immediate 
research, and animates and encourages onward inquiry. 
To appreciate Abernethy, however, it is necessary that 
the public should have correct views, at least, of the 
general nature and objects of Medical Science. 

We hope to show in this volume that the public 
have not only a very real interest in a sound enmmon- 
sense view of the objects of medicine and surgery, but 
a far deeper interest than it is possible for any one 
medical man to have merely as such, or all medical 


men put together. This may, to those who have not 
considered the matter, appear new, and therefore start- 
ling, but we only beg the reader to be patient, and br- 
and-by he will be able to judge for himself. 

It is right, however, at once to observe, that man- 
kind have been taught or induced to believe that the 
objects of medicine and surgery are to prevent or re- 
lieve diseases and accidents by the astute employment 
of drugs, or by certain adroit manipulatory or mechan- 
ical proceedings, and, par excellence, by " operations." 
Now here is a great error — an idea so far from true, 
that nothing can more delusively define, or more en- 
tirely conceal the higher objects of the science. 

The converse of the proposition would be nearer the 
truth. It would be more correct to say, that while 
the object was to relieve diseases and accidents by re- 
moving all interferences with the reparative powers of 
nature, that this was accomplished more perfectly in 
proportion as we were enabled to dispense with the 
employment of drugs or the performance of operations. 

The making the lame to walk, the blind to see, and 
the deaf to hear, were chosen among the appropriate 
symbols of a Divine Mission ; and we need scarcely 
observe, that in the restricted sphere of human capac- 
ity, this is a portion of the mission of every conscien- 
tious surgeon. 

We may well, therefore, be dissatisfied with the 
narrow, not to say degrading definition of our duties 
too generally entertained; but, on the other hand, if 
we would make these more lofty views of our calling 
practically useful, wc should recollect there is only 
one way of our attaining even human approximation 
to these symbols, and that is by the applied interpreta- 


tion of those no less miraculous symbols, no less cer- 
tain manifestations of Divine Power, the " Laws of 
Nature." To name a science from something not es- 
sential to it, is like naming a class of animals from 
some exceptional peculiarity in an individual. It is 
as if we would infer the mission of the ocean wave 
from the scum sometimes seen on its surface, or as if 
we would deduce the use of a feather, not from its 
common character of levity and toughness, so much 
as from the use we make of it in writing; treat an 
exception as a rule, or any other manifest absurdity. 

We hope to return -to this subject. At present we 
must rest satisfied in having awakened the reader's 
attention to it, and proceed to the more ordinary ob- 
jects of Biographical Memoir. 

John Abernethy was born in London, in the parish 
of St. Stephen's, Coleman Street, on the 3d of April, 
1764, exactly one year after John Hunter settled in 
London. It is also interesting to remark, that Aber- 
nethy's first work — his " Surgical and Physiological 
Essays," Part I. — was published the same year that 
Hunter died, 1793, so that while his birth occurred 
nearly at the same time as the commencement of the 
more sustained investigations of Hunter, his opening 
contribution to science was coincident with the close 
of the labors of his illustrious friend and predecessor. 

The Abernethy family, in their origin, were possi- 
bly Scotch, and formed one of those numerous inter- 
migrations between Scotland and the North of Ireland 
which, after lapse of time, frecmently render it diffi- 
cult to trace the original stock. There seems little 
doubt they had resided for some generations in Ire- 



John Abernethy, who was the pastor of a Coleraine 
congregation in 1688, was an eminent Protestant Dis- 
senting minister, and the father of one still more dis- 
tinguished. The son (also named John) had been for 
some time pastor of the old congregation of Antrim, 
whence he removed to Dublin about the year 1733, to 
take charge of the Wood Street, now Strand Street, 
Dublin. He is the author of several volumes of ser- 
mons, which are not a little remarkable for the clear- 
ness of thought and earnestness of purpose with which 
they inculcate practical piety. He had a son who 
was a merchant, who subsequently removed to Lon- 
don, and traded under the firm of Abernethy and Don- 
aldson, in Rood Lane, Fenchurch Street. This gentle- 
man married a lady whose name was Elizabeth Weir, 
daughter of Henry and Margaret Weir, of the town of 
Antrim, and they had two sons and three daughters. 

James, the elder brother, was also in business as a 
merchant, and died about the year 1823. He was a 
man of considerable talent, spoke with an accent sug- 
gestive of an Irish origin, and was remarkable for his 
admiration and critical familiarity with our immortal 
Shakspeare. He was probably born before his father 
loft Ireland. John, the second son, the subject of our 
Memoir, was, as we have already said, born in Lon- 
don. The register of his christening at St. Stephen's 
is as follows : 

( 1765. 

, , ) John, son of 

Abernethy < . , , _,., 

• ) John and Elizabeth, 

' April 24. 

This register would suggest that he was born a year 
later than I have stated. I have, however, preferred 
1761 as the year adopted by his family; for, although 


a man's birth is an occurrence respecting the date of 
which he is not the very best authority, he usually gets 
his information from those who are. Besides, it was 
no uncommon thing at that time to defer the christen- 
ing of children for a much longer period. The educa- 
tion of his early childhood was most likely altogether 
conducted at home, but it is certain that, while yet 
very young, he was sent to the Grammar School at 
Wolverhampton. Here he received the principal part 
of his education, and though the records are somewhat 
meagre, yet they tend to show that at an early age he 
manifested abilities, both general and peculiar, which 
were indicative of no ordinary mind ; and which, though 
they do not necessarily prefigure the future eminence 
at which he arrived, were sufficiently suggestive of the 
probability that, whatever his career might be, he would 
occupy a distinguished position. 


" Ah, happy hills ! ah, pleasing shade ! 
Ah, fields beloved in vain, 
Where once my careless childhood stray'd 
A stranger yet to pain." — Gray. 

Mankind naturally feel an interest in the boyhood 
of men of genius. 

But it often happens that very little attention is paid 
to early indications, and, when observed, it is certain 
that they are often interpreted very falsely. 

Nothing more emphatically suggests how much we 
have to learn on this subject, than the obscurity which 
so often hangs over the earlier years of distinguished 


men. At school, a number of variable organizations 
are subjected to very much the same order of influ- 
ences ; the necessity for generalization affords little op- 
portunity for individual analysis. The main road is 
broad and conventional; there is little scope for by- 
paths, even should the master have the penetration to 
perceive, in individual cases, the expediency of such 
selection. Hence the quickening of those impulses, 
on which the development of character so much de- 
pends, is greatly a matter of uncertainty. The mo- 
ment boys leave school, on the contrary, this uniform- 
ity of external influences is replaced by an intermina- 
ble diversity, at home scarcely two boys being sub- 
jected to exactly the same. Thus, in many instances, 
it would be easier to deduce the character of the boy 
from the man, than to have predicted the man from 
the boy. The evidences of the one are present to us, 
those of the other may have been entirely unelicited, 
unobserved, or forgotten. 

We can not wonder, then, that expectation should 
have been so often disappointed in the boy, or that ex- 
cellences little dreamed of should have been developed 
in the man. 

Dryden, who, regarded in the triple capacity of poet, 
prose writer, and critic, is hardly second to any English 
author, took no honor at the University. Swift, per- 
haps our best writer of pure English, whose talents 
proved scarcely less versatile and extraordinary than 
they had appeared restricted and deficient, was " pluck- 
ed" for his degree in Dublin, and only obtained his rec- 
ommendation to Oxford "speciali gratia," as it was 
termed. The phrase, however, being obviously equiv- 
ocal, and used only in the bad sense at Dublin, was 


fortunately for Swift, interpreted in a good sense at 
Oxford, a misapprehension which Swift, of course, was 
at no pains to remove. 

Sheridan was remarkable for his readiness and wit ; 
as a writer, he showed considerable powers of sustain- 
ed thought also. He had an habitual eloquence, and 
on one occasion delivered an oration before one of the 
most distinguished audiences that the world ever saw,* 
with an effect which seems to have rivaled the most 
successful efforts of Cicero, or even Demosthenes. Yet 
he had shown so little capacity as a boy, that he was 
presented to a tutor by his own mother with the com- 
plimentary accompaniment that he was an incorrigible 

Some boys live on encouragement, others seem to 
work best up stream. Niebuhr, the traveler, the father 
of a son no less illustrious, with any thing but an orig- 
inally aoute mind, seems to have overcome every dis- 
advantage which the almost constant absence of oppor- 
tunity could combine. Those who are curious in such 
matters might easily multiply examples of the forego- 
ing description, and add others where — as in the case 
of Galileo, Newton, Wren, and many others — the 
predictions suggested by early physical organization 
proved as erroneous as the intellectual indications to 
which we have just adverted. 

The truth is, we have a great deal to learn on the 
subject of mind, although there is no want of mate- 
rials for instruction. Medicine and surgery are not 
the only branches of knowledge which require the aid 
of strictly inductive inquiry. In all, the materials 
(facts) are abundant. 
* We allude to his first speech on the trial of Warren Hastings. 


In Abernethy there was a polarity of character, an 
individuality, a positiveness of type, which would have 
made the boy a tolerably intelligible outline of the fu- 
ture man. The evidence is imperfect; it is chiefly 
drawn from the recollections of a living few, who, 
though living, have become the men of former days; 
but still the evidence all inclines one way. 

We can quite imagine a little boy, "careless in his 
dress, not slovenly," with his hands in his pockets, 
some morning about the year 1774, standing under 
the sunny side of the wall at Wolverhampton Gram- 
mar School ;* his pockets containing, perhaps, a few 
shillings, some halfpence, and a knife with the point 
broken, a pencil, together with a tolerably accurate 
sketch of "Old Robertson's" wig — this article, as 
shown in an accredited portrait! now lying before us, 
was one of those enormous by-gone bushes which repre- 
sented a sort of impenetrable fence round the cranium, 
as if to guard the precious material within — the said 
boy just finishing a story to his laughing companions, 
though no sign of fun appeared in him, save a little 
curl of the lip, and a smile which would creep out of 
the corner of his eye in spite of him. I have had the 
good fortune to find no less than three school-fellows 
of Abernethy who are still living: John Fowler, Esq., 
of Datchet, a gentleman whom I have had the pleas- 
ure of knowing for many years, and who enjoys in hon- 

* Wolverhampton School, founded by Sir Stephen Jermyn, Alder 
man and Knight of the City of London, in the reign of Henry VIII., 
for the "Instruction of youth in morals and learning." Many dis- 
tinguished men were educated at the school, as Abernethy, Mr. Tork 
fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Sir William Congrcve, and oth 
ers. The present head master is the Rev. W White. 

t Kindly sent us by Mr. Fowler, of Datchet. 


orable retirement at his country seat, at the age of 
eighty-two, the perfect possession of all his faculties; 
William Thacker, Esq., of Muchall, about two miles 
from Wolverhampton, who is in his eighty-fifth year ; 
T. Tummins, Esq., of King Street, Wolverhampton, 
who is in his eighty-seventh year, school-fellows. To 
these gentlemen, and to J. Wynn, Esq., also of Wolver- 
hampton, I am principally indebted for the few remin- 
iscences I have been able to collect of the boyish days 
of Abernethy. 

The information which I gained from Mr. Fowler he 
gave me himself; he also kindly procured me a long 
letter from Mr. Wynn. The reminiscences of Mr. 
Tummins and Mr. Thacker I have obtained through 
the very courteous and kind assistance of the Rev. 
W White, the present distinguished head master of 
the Wolverhampton School. 

To all of these gentlemen I can not too strongly 
express my thanks for the prompt and kind manner in 
which they have replied to all the inquiries which 
have been addressed to them. The following are the 
principal facts which their letters contain, or the con- 
clusions they justify. Abernethy must have gone to 
Wolverhampton when very young probably, I should 
say certainly before 1774. He was brought by Dr. 
Robertson from London with another pupil, " his friend 
Thomas ;" and the "two Londoners" boarded with Dr. 
Robertson. When Mr. Fowler went there in 1778, 
Abernethy was high up in the school, and ultimately 
got to the head of the senior form. He must have left 
Wolverhampton certainly not later than 1778, because 
Dr. Robertson resigned the head mastership in that 
year; and we know that in the following year, 1779, 


when he was fifteen, he was apprenticed to Sir Charles 

Mr. Thacker says he was very studious, clever, a 
good scholar, humorous, but very passionate. Mr. 
Tummins, Mr. Thacker says, knew Abernethy well. 
Abernethy used to go and dine frequently with Mr. 
Tummins's father. Mr. Tummins says Abernethy was 
a sharp boy, " a very sharp boy," and a very passion- 
ate one too. Dr. Robertson, he says, was also a very 
passionate man. 

One day Abernethy had to "do" some Greek Testa- 
ment, and it appeared that he set off very glibly, hav- 
ing a "crib," in the shape of a Greek Testament, with 
a Latin version on the other side. The old doctor, sus- 
pecting the case, discovered the crib, and the pupil 
was instantly " leveled with the earth." This fortiter 
in re plan of carrying the intellect by a coup-de-main 
has, as the present head master observes, been replaced 
by more refined modes of proceeding. The more ener- 
getic plan was, however coarse and objectionable, not 
always unsuccessful in implanting a certain quantity 
of Latin and Greek. Abernethy was a very fair Latin 
scholar, and he certainly had not a bad knowledge of 
Greek also. 

There are, however, many other things to be learn- 
ed besides Latin and Greek ; and it is probable that 
the more measured reliance on such violent appeals, 
which characterizes modern education, might have 
been better suited to Abernethy. To a boy who was 
naturally shy, and certainly passionate, such mechan- 
ical illustrations of his duty were likely to augment 
shyness into distrust, and to exacerbate an irritable 
temper into an excitable disposition. 


Abernethy, in chatting over matters, was accustom- 
ed jocularly to observe that, for his part, he thought 
his mind had on some subjects what he called a "punc- 
tual saturation/is /" so that "if you put any thing more 
into his head, you pushed something out." If so, we 
may readily conceive that this plan of forcing in the 
Greek might have forced out an equivalent quantity 
of patience or self-possession. It is difficult to imagine 
any thing less appropriate to a disposition like Aber- 
nethy's than the discipline in question. It was, in 
fact, calculated to create those very infirmities of char- 
acter which it is the object of education to correct or 

It seems that neither wiriting nor arithmetic were 
taught in the school; and "Tummins and Abernethy" 
used to go to learn these matters at the school of a 
Miss Ready, in King Street, "Wolverhampton. This 
lady appears to have had, like Dr. Robertson, a high 
opinion of what the profession usually term " local ap- 
plications" in the conduct of education. Many years 
afterward she called upon Mr. Abernethy. He was 
then in full practice in London. He received her with 
the greatest kindness; begged her to come and dine 
with him as often as she could while she stayed in 
London; and introducing her to Mrs. Abernethy, said, 
" I beg to introduce you to a lady who has boxed my 
ears many a time." 

Had Miss Ready, however, heard us call in question 
this association of boxing ears and quill-driving, she 
would probably have retorted on us that few men wrote 
so good a hand as John Abernethy. It is also perfect- 
ly certain that, brusque as the discipline might have 
been, and ill suited to the disposition of Abernethy, it 


did not interfere with the happiness of his school-boy 
life. He always looked back to his days at "Wolver- 
hampton with peculiar pleasure, and seemed to regard 
every association with the place with affectionate re- 

Mr. Wynn observes in his letter : " About twenty 
years ago I accompanied a patient to Mr. Abernethy. 
After prescribing, he said, ' Let me see you again in 
about a week.' ' "We can not, for we are returning 
into the country.' ' Why, where do you live ?' ' Wol- 
verhampton.' ' Wolverhampton ? Why, I went to 
school there. Come, sit down, and tell me who's alive 
and who's dead.' After running over the names of 
some of the old families, their health, circumstances, 
&c, he wished us good-morning, saying, 'Ah! I can 
not forget Wolverhampton.' " 

Mr. Thacker's note I subjoin, written in a good, firm 
hand at eighty-five : 

Murchall, near Wolverhampton, May 17, 1852. 
" Sir, — As a boy, I remember John Abernethy and 
William Thomas coming from London to board with, 
and as scholars to, Dr. Robertson, the head master of 
the Wolverhampton School, in which there were two 
masters, both clergymen. We were formed into sev- 
eral classes, in which John Abernethy, William Thom- 
as, Walter Acton Mosely, and myself, formed one. 
Abernethy took the head or top of the class. The 
boys used to change places in the classes according to 
their proficiency, but I do not recollect that Abernethy 
ever took a third place in the class. So also in his 
sports, he usually made a strong side, for he was re- 
markably quick and active, and soon learned a new 


game. Ho had but one fault that I knew of — he was 
rather hasty and impetuous in his manner, but it was 
soon over and forgotten. 

" The ' Doctor,' as we used to call him (Robertson), 
had a daughter grown up, and she used to hear the 
boarders in the house read plays before her father, in 
which, in particular passages, she showed where the 
emphasis should be laid, and how to pronounce the 
same properly ; this occasioned the use of the play of 
' Cato,' and originated the boys' performance of that 
play in the school-room before their fathers and friends. 
I do not remember the part that Abernethy took in 
that plaj\ I have applied to Mr. Tummins, of Wol- 
verhampton, but his memory does not supply informa- 
tion. He knew Mr. Abernethy well. 

" If I recollect any others of my school-fellows who 
knew him, I will apply to them for information, and 
3ommunicate the same to you immediately. 
" I am, Sir, your obedient servant, 

"William Thacker. 
"To George Macilwain, Esq." 

We learn from another reminiscent that in the play 
at Wolverhampton Abernethy took a "principal part." 
He, certainly had a good deal of dramatic talent, in the 
highest sense of the word ; and, as will be seen in the 
sequel, could light up a story with rich humor, or 
clothe it with pathos, as suited the occasion, with equal 
facility. There is much in these school reminiscences, 
scanty as they are, significent of his future character. 

As we have observed, Abernethy left Wolverhamp- 
ton in 1778. He was then head of the school, a quick, 
clever b"y, and more than an average scholar. He 
returned to London, that world of hopes, fears, and 


anxieties, that spacious arena, on which all are desirous 
of entering as competitors who are ambitious of profes- 
sional or commercial distinction. 


Nunquam ita quisquam bene subducti ratione ad vitam fuit 
Quin res, a?tas, usiis, semper aliquid apportet novi 
Aliquid moneat ; ut ilia qua? te scire eredas, nescias : 
Et qua? tibi putaris prima, in experiundo repudias. 

Ter., Act v., Sc. 4. 

Never did man lay down so fair a plan. 

So wise a rule of life, but fortune, age, 

Or long experience made some change in it, 

And taught him that those things he thought he knew, 

He did not know, and what he held as best 

In practice, he threw by. — Colman. 

Circumstances in themselves apparently unimport- 
ant, often determine the selection of a profession. Few 
boys can do exactly what they please, and the pros 
and cons are seldom placed before them in a way to 
assist them in determining the just value of the rea- 
sons on which their choice may have proceeded. They 
are not, indeed, unfrequently dealt with as if, while 
not incompetent to make choice of a profession, they 
were held incapable of weighing the circumstances by 
which alone such choice could be judiciously directed. 
The absurdity of this appears when we think a mo- 
ment of what it involves, which is nothing less than 
expecting them to do what is impossible, viz., to form 
an opinion on a subject, when the main facts in rela- 
tion to it are withheld from them. Be this as it may, 
every day shows us that men are too frequently dissat- 


isfied with the profession which they follow. The 
question of our hoyhood recollections 

" Qui fit Maecenas ut nemo quam sibi sortem, 
Seu ratio dederit seu fors objecerit, ilia, 
Contentus vivat V 

is just as applicable as ever ; and although human 
nature has almost every thing ascribed to its natural 
infirmities, yet it appears quite as sensible, and not a 
whit less humble, to conclude, that paths chosen with- 
out consideration naturally lead to disappointment. 
The evil, like most others, carries with it the elements 
of self-correction. 

Parents are slow to encourage their children to im- 
itate a course on which they themselves look back with 
regret. This, of course, tends to distribute their pro- 
fessions to other families. Mutual interchanges of this 
kind tend to protect the interests of society from an in- 
definite multiplication of failures in men selecting the 
pursuits best adapted to them. 

In almost all pursuits of life, success is determined, 
much more than many are disposed to imagine, by the 
homely qualities of steadiness and industry. We are 
apt — and sometimes not improperly, certainly — to as- 
cribe peculiar excellence to peculiar powers. Yet the 
mure we discover of the histories of great men, the more 
we perceive how constantly the more special have been 
aided by the more homely qualifications to which we 
have adverted. 

No doubt some minds are so constituted as to he 
moderately certain of success or distinction in almost 
any pursuit to which they might have been directed, 
and we are disposed to think that Abernethy's was a 
mind of that order; but there is abundant evidence to 


show that his talents were at least equaled by his in- 
dustry. One paper of his, which contains a beautiful 
and discriminative adjustment of a difficult point of 
practice in Injuries of the Head, and which contains no 
intrinsic evidence of such industry, was only prepared 
after he had attended to every serious injury of the head 
in a large hospital for almost twenty years, besides ex- 
amining the bodies of all the fatal cases. Nor can Ave 
estimate this industry properly without recollecting that 
all this time he was an assistant surgeon only, whose 
duties for the most part neither required nor permitted 
him to do more than to observe the treatment, and that 
therefore the whole of this industry was simply in the 
character of a student of his profession.* All biogra- 
phy is full of thks kind of evidence; and art, as well 
as science, furnishes its contribution. "Who could im- 
agine that the peculiarly chaste composition, easy and 
graceful touch of Sir Augustus Callcott, could have 
owed so much to industry as it undoubtedly must have 
done? It is known, for example, that he made no less 
than forty different sketches in the composition of one 
picture. We allude to his "Rochester." Had Aber- 
nethy been allowed to choose his profession, there can 
be no doubt but that he would have selected the Bar. 
It is impossible for any one to consider the various 
powers he evinced, without feeling that, had he follow- 
ed the Law, he would have arrived at a very distin- 
guished position. " Had my father let me be a law- 
yer," he would say, "I should have known every Act 
of Parliament by heart." This, though no doubt in- 
tended as a mere figure of speech, was not so far from 

* The assistant surgeons have no m-patients under their care ex- 
cept in the absence or by permission of their chiefs. 


possibility as might be imagined, for it referred to one 
of his most striking characteristics, viz., a memory alike 
marvelously ready, capacious, and retentive — qualities 
common enough separately, but rare in powerful com- 

We may have opportunities by-and-by, perhaps, of 
further illustrating it. We will give one anecdote 
here. A gentleman, dining with him on a birth-day 
of Mrs. Abernethy's, had composed a long copy of vers- 
es in honor of the occasion, which he repeated to the 
family circle after dinner. "Ah!" said Abernethy, 
smiling, "that is a good joke now, your pretending to 
have written those verses." His friend simply rejoin- 
ed that, such as they were, they were certainly his 
own. After a little good-natured bantering, his friend 
began to evince something like annoyance at Aber- 
nethy's apparent incredulity ; so, thinking it was time 
to finish the joke, "Why," said Abernethy, "I know 
those verses very well, and could say them by heart." 
His friend declared it to be impossible, when Aber- 
nethy immediately repeated them throughout correct- 
ly, and with the greatest apparent ease. To return. 
However useful this quality might have been at the 
Bar, Abernethy was destined to another course of life — 
a pathway more in need, perhaps, of that light which 
his higher qualifications enabled him to throw over it, 
and which his position "in time" afforded him an op- 
portunity of doing just when it seemed most required. 
He probably thus became, both during life and pros- 
pectively, the instrument of greater good to his fellow- 
creatures than he would have been in any other sta- 
tion whatever. 

I have not been able to discover what the particular 


circumstances were which determined his choice of 
the medical profession. It. is probable that they were 
not very peculiar. A boy thwarted in his choice of a 
profession is generally somewhat indifferent as to the 
course which is next presented to him ; besides, as his 
views would not have been opposed but for some good 
reason, a warm and affectionate disposition would in- 
duce him to favor any suggestion from his parents. 
Sir Charles Blicke was a surgeon in large practice; 
he lived at that time in Mildred's Court, and Aber- 
nethy's father was a near neighbor, probably in Cole- 
man Street. 

Abernethy had shown himself a clever boy, a good 
scholar ; and he was at the top of Wolverhampton 
School before he was fifteen. Sir Charles Blicke was 
quick-sighted, and would easily discover that Aber- 
nethy was a " sharp boy." All that Abernethy prob- 
ably knew of Sir Charles was that he rode about in his 
carriage, saw a good many people, and took a good 
many fees, all of which, though probably presenting 
no particular attractions for Abernethy, made a prima 
facie case, which was not repulsive. Accordingly, in 
the year 1779, being then fifteen years of age, he be- 
came bound an apprentice to Sir Charles, and proba- 
bly for about five years. 

This first step, this apprenticing, has a questiona- 
ble tendency as regards the interests of the public and 
the profession. It exerts also a considerable influence 
on the character and disposition of the boy, which we 
must by-and-by consider. It is a mode of proceeding 
which we fear has done not a little to impede the prog- 
ress of surgery as a science, and to maintain that 
handcraft idea of it suggested by the etymology of the 


word. Where one man strikes out a new path, thou- 
sands follow the beaten track. 

A boy with his mind ill prepared, having no definite 
ideas of the nature and objects of scientific inquiries, 
and almost certainly uninstructed as to the rules to be 
observed in conducting them — knowing neither any 
distinction between an art and a science — a boy thus 
conditioned is bound for a certain number of years! to 
a man of whom he. knows little, and to a profession of 
which he knows nothing. He takes his ideas and his 
tone from his master, or, if these'be repulsive to him, 
he probably takes an opposite extreme. If the master 
practices his profession merely as an art, he furnishes 
his pupil with little more than a string of convention- 
alisms; when, if the pupil has talent enough to do any 
thing for himself, he is tolerably certain to have a 
great deal to unlearn. 

We believe the system is in course of improvement; 
it is high time it was put an end to altogether. Ap- 
prenticeships might not have been an inauspicious 
mode of going to work in former times, when there 
existed barber-surgeons. This alliance of surgery and 
shaving, to say nothing of the numerous other qualifi- 
cations with which they were sometimes associated, 
conceivably enough furnished some pretext for appren- 
ticeships, since Dickey Gossip's definition of 

■' Shaving and tooth-drawing, 
Bleeding, cabbaging, and sawing," 

was by no means always sufficiently comprehensive to 
include the multifarious accomplishments of -'the doc- 
tor." I have myself seen in a distant part of this isl- 
and, within twenty-five years, chemist, druggist, sur- 
geon, apothecary, and the significant &c. followed by 



the hatter, hosier, and linen-draper in one establish- 
ment ; but as we shall have to discuss this subject 
more fully in relation to Abernethy in another place, 
we may proceed. 

Sir Charles Blicke had a large and lucrative prac- 
tice. He had the character of taking care to be well 
remunerated for his services. He amassed a consider- 
able fortune; but we incline to think the impressions 
of the profession which Abernethy derived from the 
experience of his apprenticeship were not unfavorable. 
The astute, business-like mode of carrying on the pro- 
fession, which seems to have characterized Sir Charles 
Blicke's practice, could have few charms for Abernethy. 
The money-making character of it had never much at- 
traction for him, and at that period of his life probably 
none at all, while the measured pretensions of it to any 
thing like a science could hardly have been at times 
otherwise than repulsive. 

The tone in which he usually spoke of Sir Charles's 
practice did not convey a very favorable idea of the 
nature of the impression which it had left on him. In 
relating a case he would say, "Sir Charles was at his 
house in the country, where he was always on the look- 
out for patients." On another occasion, speaking of 
patients becoming faint under peculiar circumstances, 
he observed, "When I was an apprentice, my master 
used to say, ' Oh, sir! you are faint; pray drink some 
of this water.' And what do you think was the effect 
of his putting cold water into a man's stomach under 
these circumstances? why, of course, that it was often 
rejected in his face." 

Sir Charles's manipulatory and operative proceed- 
ings seem, however, to have represented a tolerably 


adroit adoption of the prevailing modes of practice, 
while his medical surgery consisted chiefly of the em- 
pirical employment of such remedies as he had found 
most frequently successful, or, at all events, somehow 
or other associated with a successful issue, with the 
usual absence of any investigation of the cause of either 
success or failure. By a mind like Abernethy's, this 
sort of routine would be very soon acquired, and in a 
short time estimated at its real value. Still, while a 
clear head is all that is necessary to the reception of 
what may be positive and truthful, it requires a vivid 
perception and a cultivated understanding to detect 
error. Many things, however, would creep out in Aber- 
nethy's lectures, showing that, young as he was, even 
during his apprenticeship, he was not only a real stu- 
dent, but he had begun to think for himself. 

He mentions a case of " Locked-jaw," that occurred 
as early as 1780, in the first year of his apprenticeship, 
which he appears to have noted with great accuracy. 
He mentions the powerful medicine that was given to 
the man, the doses, and, lastly, the enormous quantity 
of it which was found in the stomach after death. It 
was opium, and amounted to many drachms. 

We also find him engaged in inquiries involving 
much more extended views than were in that day gen- 
eral/!/ associated with the study of surgery. He very 
early participated in those researches which had for 
their object to determine the relation of the digestive 
functions to one of the most recondite affections of an 
extremely important organ (the kidney). 

"When I was a boy," said he, "I half ruined my- 
self in buying oranges and other things, to ascertain 
the effects of different kinds of diet in this disease." 


The same researches show how early also he began 
to perceive the importance of chemistry in investiga- 
ting the functions of different organs, and in aiding, 
generally, physiological researches. ' We have heard a 
contemporary and a lecturer on chemistry attest Aber- 
nethy's proficiency in that science. As his investiga- 
tions proceeded, he had the still higher merit of taking 
just and sober views of the relations of chemistry to 
physiological science. 

"We mean that while he fully recognized the import- 
ance of it, he entirely avoided that exclusive reliance 
on it which is too often created by some of the more 
striking demonstrations of chemical science ; that one 
— idea — tendency, which unconsciously wrests it to 
the solution of phenomena which, in the present state 
of our knowledge, it is wholly inadequate to explain. 
We have alluded to the foregoing facts touching the im- 
pressions derived from his apprenticeship, and his early 
disposition for philosophical research, because both will 
be found to have relations to his subsequent labors and 
peculiarities. Diligent as he was, we suspect he found 
little during his apprenticeship of those attractions 
which make labor and industry sources of pleasure and 

As a matter of course, he would have been allowed 
to attend any lectures which were given at the hospi- 
tal to which Sir Charles Blicke was surgeon (St. Bar- 
tholomew's), and they would bring him in contact with 
Mr. Pott, who delivered a certain number of surgical 
lectures there. 

There were no courses of anatomical lectures given 
at St. Bartholomew's at that period, but anatomical 
lectures were delivered regularly at the London Hon- 


pital by Dr. Maclaurin and Sir William Blizard, and 
afterward by Sir William Blizard alone. As Sir Charles 
Blicke lived in Mildred's Court, and subsequently in 
Billiter Square, Abernethy would be about equidistant 
from the two hospitals, both of which he attended. We 
incline to think that it was in attending the lectures, 
and perhaps especially those of Sir William Blizard, 
that he, first found those awakening impulses, which 
excited in him a real love for his profession. 

It was about this time, we think, that he began to 
have more enlarged ideas of the nature and objects of 
surgical science; a state of mind calculated to enable 
him to thoroughly understand and appreciate Mr. Hun- 
ter, and (o deduce from the principles which he was 
shadowing forth those relations and consequences which 
we shall endeavor popularly to explain ; principles 
which, though originally directed to the treatment of 
so-called surgical maladies, were found equally to af- 
fect the practice of medicine. 


There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude. 
Were there no positive command which enjoined it, nor any recom- 
pense laid up for it hereafter, a generous mind would indulge in it 
for the natural gratification which accompanies it. — Addison. 

Sir William Blizard was an eminent surgeon and 
an enthusiastic student of the profession, as studied in 
his day. He had a certain bluntness of manner, which 
was not unkind neither. He was very straightfor- 
ward, which Abernethy liked ; and he had nothing of 
a mercenary disposition, which Abernethy held in ab- 
horrence. He was a kind of man very likely to excite 


in one of Abernethy's tone of mind very agreeable im- 
pressions. He early perceived the talents, and was 
probably the first to encourage the industry, of his dis- 
tinguished pupil. Enthusiastic himself, he had the 
power of communicating a similar feeling to many of 
his pupils ; and he appears to have contributed one of 
those impulses to Abernethy which are from time to 
time necessary to sustain the pursuit of an arduous 

Some men seem to like anatomy for its own sake ; 
examinations of structure merely, by dissection or the 
microscope, have a fund of intrinsic charm for them. 
This was not the case with Abernethy. Mere anatomy 
had few charms for him. He regarded it in its true 
light, as a means to an end — as the basis on which he 
could alone found, not only the mere common or hand- 
craft duties of surgery, but also those higher views 
which aim at ascertaining the uses and relations of the 
various organs ; to ascertain in this way what the proc- 
esses of nature were in the preservation of health and 
the conduct of disease — in short, a knowledge of what 
he called physio-pathology. 

Sir William, therefore, in exciting Abernethy's en- 
thusiasm at this time, was probably of great service. 
He was thus impelled to pursue the study of anatomy, 
which perhaps might otherwise have failed to interest 
him sufficiently, while it by no means diverted his at- 
tention from the real purposes of that study. On the 
contrary, he always saw anatomy, as it were, through 
a physiological medium. This threw a pleasure into 
his anatomical studies, and was one of the means bv 
which, in his own lectures, he contrived to impart an 
interest to the driest parts of our studies. 


Many years afterward, he was fond of illustrating the 
true relations of anatomy and physiology; and at the 
same time contrasting the attractions of the one with 
the comparatively repulsive requisitions of the other, by 
saying with Dr. Barclay, of Edinburgh, that "he never 
would have wedded himself to so ugly a witch (anat- 
omy) but for the dower she brought him (physiology)." 
The impressions which he derived from Sir William 
Blizard were deep and durable. More than thirty years 
after, when he himself was at the zenith of his career, 
we find his grateful feeling toward Sir William still 
glowing warm as ever. He seems to have considered 
it as the most appropriate opening to the first of the 
beautiful lectures which he delivered at the College of 
Surgeons in 1814. It must have been a moment of 
no small gratification to Sir William, who was present, 
now venerable with age, to have found that the honor- 
able course of his own younger days, and the purity 
and excellence of his precepts, had all been garnered 
up in the heart of his grateful and most distinguished 
pupil; nor could the evidence of it be more striking 
than to hear it heralded forth before an audience com- 
posed of the most venerable and experienced, as well 
as of the most rising members of the profession; and, 
to crown the whole, with an eloquence at once modest 
and emotional, impressive of the depth and sincerity 
with which the eulogium was delivered. 

It is difficult to imagine a scene more moving to the 
master, more gratifying to the pupil, or more honorable 
to both. As the style was very characteristic, we se- 
lect a few passages. He commences the lecture by 
saying of Sir William Blizard that " he was my earliest 
instructor in anatomy and surgery, and I am greatly 


indebted to him for much valuable information. My 
warmest thanks are also due to him for the interest he 
excited in my mind toward these studies, and for his 
excellent advice. 'Let your search after truth,' he 
would say, 'be eager and constant. Be wary in ad- 
mitting propositions to be facts before you have sub- 
mitted them to the strictest examination. If after this 
you believe them to be true, never disregard or forget 
any one of them, however unimportant it may at the 
time appear. Should you perceive truths to be import- 
ant, make them motives of action. Let them serve as 
springs to your conduct. If we neglect to draw such 
inferences, or to act in conformity with them, we fail 
in essential duties.'" Again, in remarking how Sir 
William excited his enthusiasm by the beau-ideal which 
he drew of the medical character, Mr. Abernethy ob- 
served: "lean not tell you how splendid and brilliant 
he made it appear; and then he cautioned us never to 
tarnish its lustre by any disingenuous cunduct, or by 
any thing that bore even the semblance of dishonor." 
Abernethy then proceeding in a strain warm, yet apol- 
ogetic (Sir William being present), at length concluded 
his public thanks to his venerable instructor by saying, 
"What I have now stated is a tribute due from me to 
him; and I pay it on the present occasion in the hope 
that the same precepts and motives may have the same 
effects on the junior part of my audience as they were 
accustomed, in general, to have on the pupils of Sir 
William Blizard."* 

* Sir William was a good surgeon and an excellent man. He was 
born at Barnes, in Surrey, and practiced his profession until his death, 
which took place at the advanced age of ninety-three. One of his 
eyes was affected with cataract, which was removed by operation 


Abernethy then proceeded to advocate similar lofty- 
views of the nature and duties of our profession in the 
following manner : " That which most dignifies man is 
the cultivation of those qualities which most distin- 
guish him from the brute creation. We should in- 
deed seek truth for its importance, and act as the dic- 
tates of reason direct, us. By exercising our minds in 
the attainment of medical knowledge, we may im- 
prove a science of great public utility. We have need 
of enthusiasm, or of some strong incentive, to induce 
us to spend our nights in study, and our days in the 
disgusting and health-destroying duties of the dissect- 
ing-room, or in that careful and distressing observation 
of human diseases and infirmities which can alone en- 
able us to alleviate or remove them ; some powerful 
inducement," he adds, "exclusive of fame or emolu- 
ment (for unfortunately a man may attain a consider- 
able share of reputation and practice without being a 
real student of his profession). I place before you the 
most animating incentive I know of — that is, the en- 
viable power of being extensively useful to your fel- 
low-creatures. You will be able to confer that which 
sick kings would fondly purchase with their diadems, 
which wealth can not command, nor state nor rank 
bestow — to alleviate or remove disease, the most in- 
supportable of human afflictions, and thereby give 
health, the most invaluable of human blessings." 

When Abernethy entered the London Hospital, he 
soon gave proofs that Sir William's lessons were not 
unfruitful. He was early employed to prepare the 

when he was ninety-one. He was enthusiastically fond of his pro- 
fession, and was chiefly remarkable for his zealous observance of its 
honorable practice, and his indifference to lucre. He died in 1835. 



subjects for lecture. Anatomy is usually taught by 
combining three plans. 

In one, the various structures, muscles, vessels, 
nerves, <Scc., are exposed by the removal of their cover- 
ing and connecting tissues, and so displayed as to be 
clear and distinct. This is "dissecting for lecture;" 
and it is the duty of the lecturer to describe the con- 
nections and immediate uses of the parts so displayed. 

The body is then laid on a clean table, covered with 
a white cloth, and every thing is ready. There is some 
difference in these matters in different hands ; but at- 
tention to order and cleanliness goes a long way in fa- 
cilitating anatomical pursuits. To many there may 
be much that is disagreeable in anatomy, but we are 
persuaded that a coarse and vulgar inattention to decen- 
cy has often alone rendered it disgusting or repulsive. 

The other plan is not materially different from the 
foregoing, excepting that it is generally done by the 
anatomical assistant — technically, the "demonstrator." 
The parts, having been somewhat exposed, are left, as 
much as is consistent with clearness, in their natural 
and relative positions ; and vessels, nerves, muscles, 
&c, which had been for the most part described sepa- 
rately by the lecturer, are now "demonstrated" (as the 
phrase is) together. The relative positions of all parts 
are thus more specially impressed on the student. In 
these " demonstrations" there is the same attention to 
covering the body with a cloth, &c, as in the lecture. 

Lastly, the pupil is required to make out the parts 
by dissecting them himself, with such occasional as- 
sistance as may be at first necessary, and which is 
given by the demonstrator, who attends in the room 
for that purpose. 


Now these duties (the lecture only excepted) were 
early performed by Abernethy. We may safely infer 
from this that he was distinguished by his industry 
and zeal in the pursuit of knowledge, and that he be- 
gan thus early to cultivate that power of communica- 
ting what he knew to others, in the exercise of which 
he ultimately acquired a success, a curiosa felicitas, 
in which he excelled all his contemporaries. That 
special qualifications were already discernible, we may 
inter from the post he occupied. This is usually filled 
by a pupil of the hospital to which the school belongs, 
whereas Mr. Abernethy was an apprentice of a surgeon 
of St. Bartholomew's. On the testimony of a contem- 
porary and fellow-student, Mr. W. W. Cox, late of Wol- 
verhampton, we learn that he began to individualize 
himself very early. That, at the London Hospital, 
"he was for the most part reserved, seldom associa- 
ting with any of the other students, but sitting in some 
place or corner by himself, diligently intent on the 
business of the lecture." Sir William Blizard is known 
to have felt proud of him, and to have soon indulged in 
great expectations from his character and talents. 

I have already observed that. Abernethy had the ad- 
vantage of attending also the .Surgical Lectures of Mr. 
Pott at St. Bartholomew's. Mr. Pott was a gentleman, 
a scholar, and a good writer, and seems to have been 
a spirited and attractive lecturer. In an oration de- 
livered by Sir William Blizard in 1815, it is said that 
"it was difficult to give an idea of the elegance of his 
language, the animation of his manner, or the percep- 
tive force or effect of his truths and his doctrines," a 
character which is by no means inconsistent with Mr. 
Pott's more studied compositions. 


Such opportunities were not lost on Abernethy. He 
soon became possessed of what was known in the ordi- 
nary business of anatomy and surgery. His diligence, 
too, had afforded him an opportunity of testing those 
powers of communicating what he knew, to which I 
have just alluded. As an apprentice of a surgeon of 
Bartholomew's, his views were directed in that hospi- 
tal ; and it was not long before the resignation of Mr. 
Pott, and the appointment of Sir Charles Blicke, who 
was assistant surgeon, to succeed him, opened to Aber- 
nethv an arena in which he might further mature that 
capacity for teaching his profession, which had been, 
as we learn from his own testimony, an early object of 
his ambition, and for which he had already begun to 
educate himself at the London Hospital. 


Terra salutiferas herhas eademque nocentes 
Nutrit, et urticae proxima sfepe rosa est. — Ovid. 

A largk London hospital (if we may be excused the 
Hibernianism, as Mr. Abernethy used to call it) is a 
large microcosm. There is little in human nature of 
which an observant eye may not here find types or 
realities. Hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, solace 
and suffering, are here strangely intermingled. Gen- 
eral benevolence with special exceptions. There is 
no human good without its shadow of evil ; even the 
benevolent must take care. Impatient sensibility is 
much nearer a heartless indifference than people gen- 
erally imagine. The rose Charity must take care of 
the nettle Temper. The man who is chary or chafed 


in yielding that sympathy which philosophy and feel- 
ing require, must beware lest he degenerate into a 

One of the brightest points in Abernethy's character 
was that, however he might sometimes forget the court- 
esy due to his private patients, he was never unkind 
to those whom charity had confided to his care. One 
morning, leaving home for the hospital when some one 
was desirous of detaining him, he said, "Private pa- 
tients, if they do not like me, can go elsewhere; but 
the poor devils in the hospital I am bound to take 
care of." 

But to the hospital. Here we find some that have 
had the best that this world can give — some who have 
known little but misery; the many no doubt lie be- 
tween, but all come upon the same errand. Disease 
is a great levelev. There all flock, as to Addison's 
Mountain of Miseries, to get rid of their respective bur- 
dens, or to effect such exchanges as benevolence may 
have to offer, or the grave can alone supply. Our large 
hospitalsJiave a most efficient material ; the accommo- 
dations are extensive, the revenues princely. St. Bar- 
tholomew's, for example, has a revenue of between 
twenty and thirty thousand pounds a year, and is ca- 
pable of receiving six hundred patients. 

As regards what is mechanically or physically nec- 
essary to the comfort of the inmates, the ample appli- 
ances of our large hospitals leave little or nothing that 
can be desired. There is every facility, too, for the 
execution of the duties that convenient space and or- 
derly arrangement can suggest: in short, every thing, 
in the general sense of the word, that money can pro- 
cure. Then there are governors whose hearts are as 


open as their purses, whose names are recorded in gold 
letters as the more recent or current contributors to 
the funds of the establishment, and who rejoice in the 
occasional Saturnalia of venison and turtle — all duties 
or customs which may be observed, with the gratify- 
ing reflection that they are taking the thorns out of the 
feet of the afflicted, provided only that they do not in- 
volve forgetfulness of other duties, the neglect of which 
may plant a few in their own. The governors determ- 
ine the election of the medical men, to whom the wel- 
fare of the patients and the interests of science are to 
be intrusted. 

We have said that money can not procure all things, 
and one of these is mind ; a remark requiring some 
qualification certainly, but this we must refer to a sub- 
sequent chapter. Minds such as Abernethy's are not 
to be found every day ; and, notwithstanding the sump- 
tuous bill of fare we have already glanced at, there are 
many things in a large London hospital yet to be de- 
sired ; things which, though it imply no great penetra- 
tion to discover, may, for aught we know, renuire the 
public eye and the plastic hand of power to supply. 

Abernethy was elected assistant surgeon of St. Bar- . 
tholomew's Hospital on the 15th of July, 1787. Sir 
Charles Blicke, an assistant surgeon, had been appoint- 
ed to the surgeoncy vacant by the resignation of Mr. 
Pott, and Abernethy succeeded to the assistant sur- 
geoncy thus vacated. The election was contested by 
two or three other gentlemen ; among the rest, by Mr. 
Heaviside. This gentleman was an eminent surgeon, 
and a gentlemanly, facetious, and agreeable compan- 
ion. He was originally in the Guards, and practiced 
in London many years with great credit and respecta- 


bility. He was fond of science, and expended consid- 
erable sums in the formation of an interesting museum. 
In the earlier part of his life he gave conversaziones, 
which were attended by great numbers both of the 
scientific and fashionable. 

He lived in a day when, if a gentleman felt himself 
insulted, he had at least the satisfaction of being re- 
lieved from his sensibility, by having his brains blown 
out in a duel — professionally speaking, by a kind of 
"operative surgery," viz., the demolition of the organ 
in which the troublesome faculty resided. Mr. Heavi- 
side, in his professional capacity, is said to have at- 
tended more duels than any other surgeon of his time. 
This gentleman, albeit not unused to one kind of con- 
test, retired from that at the hospital, which then lay 
between Mr. Jones and Mr. Abernethy, the former poll- 
ing twenty-nine, the latter fifty-three votes. 

This was an important epoch in the life of Aber- 
nethy. It is difficult to adjust the influence which it 
ultimately exerted for good or evil on his future pros- 
pects and happiness, or on his relations to science. 
The hospital, by this step, secured a man of extraor- 
dinary talent, it is true, and in spite of a system which 
indefinitely narrows the field of choice; still, for no 
less a term than twenty-eight years, the "system" 
(which we shall by-and-by describe) kept Abernethy, 
as regards the hospital, in a position which, although 
it did not exclude him altogether from the field of ob- 
servation it afforded, did much to restrict his cultiva- 
tion of it, His talents for observation, however, and 
the estimation in which he was soon held, no doubt to 
a certain extent, enabled him, notwithstanding, to 
bring many of his views to the test of practice. Still, 


as an assistant surgeon, except in the absence of his 
chief, he had officially nothing to do; whatever cases 
he conducted were only by sufferance of his senior. 

This, for a man of his ability, was a false and mis- 
erably cramped position; one, in fact, much better 
calculated for detecting faults than for developing the 
best mode of correcting them. As assistant surgeon, 
he had no emolument from the hospital; he had, there- 
fore, a very reasonable inducement to set about doing 
that for which he, felt himself calculated, and to which 
he had early directed his attention — namely, to teach 
his profession. The event showed that he had by no 
means miscalculated his powers. These proved well- 
nigh unrivaled. The appointment to St. Bartholo- 
mew's, besides other advantages, gave him an oppor- 
tunity of lecturing with the prestige usually afforded 
by connection with a large hospital. He did not, 
however, give lectures at the hospital at first, but de- 
livered them in Bartholomew Close. 

There was at this time, in fact, no school, properly 
so called, at St. Bartholomew's. Mr. Pott gave about 
twenty-four lectures, which, as short practical dis- 
courses, were first-rate for that period. But there 
were no other lectures, not even on anatomy, which 
are essentially the basis of a medical school. 

Dr. Marshall, who was a very remarkable man, and 
no less eminent for his general ability than for his 
professional acquirements, at this time was givin" an- 
atomical lectures at his house in Bartlett's Buildings, 
Holborn. In a biographical notice of him in the " Gen- 
tleman's Magazine," in which we read that he was 
giving lectures about the year 1787, it is incidentally 
remarked that, "in all probability, he derived little sup- 


port from St. Bartholomew's Hospital, for that recent- 
ly an ingenious young gentleman, Mr. Abernethy, had 
begun to give lectures in that neighborhood." 

Abernethy, who seems to have been always seeking 
information, certainly attended some of Marshall's lec- 
tures, because he would occasionally refer to anecdotes 
he had heard there. He had thus attended most of 
the best lecturers of his day — Sir William Blizard, 
Dr. Maclaurin, Mr. Pott, and Dr. Marshall. To the ex- 
perience which he had thus acquired, and with the 
early intention of applying it, he added a remarkably 
natural capacity for communicating his ideas to others. 
We thus begin to see the means by. which, as a lec- 
turer, he attained so early, as we shall see he did, an 
excellence in that mode of instruction. 

We allude to this feature in his education, because 
by-and-by it will, with other things, assist us in a rath- 
er difficult task : we mean that of analyzing the means 
by which he obtained such a power over his audience. 
He thus became a teacher at the age of twenty-three, 
at j large hospital where he was about to commence 
a school, of which he would be at first the sole sup- 
port. This necessarily involved a fearful amount of 
labor for an organization active and energetic, but by 
no means of great physical power. 

Labor, to be sure, is the stuff that life is made of; 
but then, in a fine organization like Abernethy's, it 
should be directed with economy of power, and in ap- 
plication to the highest purposes. Such an organiza- 
tion should, if possible, have been relieved from the 
drudgery which lies within the sphere of more ordina- 
ry capacity. Ready as we are, then, to congratulate 
the young philosopher, about to display his powers on 


a field where he was so successful, still misgivings 
creep in which restrain, or at least moderate our en- 
thusiasm. Unusual ability, no doubt, allows men to 
anticipate the order which, as the rule, Nature seems 
to have assigned to the pursuits of intellect. Still, we 
must not sutler ourselves to be blinded to the rule by 
the frequency of the exception. Youth is the time for 
acquiring knowledge ; and although there is no reason 
why the fruits may not be imparted to others as fast 
as they are gathered, still, when the larger space of a 
man's time at twenty-three is devoted to teaching 
merely, it may be reasonably doubted whether it be 
such a disposition of it as is best calculated to econo- 
mize his power, or develop the maximum of its influ- 
ence in extending the science to which it is devoted. 

John Hunter declined undertaking to teach anatomy 
at forty (1768), because it would have "engaged his 
attention too much to admit of that general attention 
to his profession, to forming habits and established 
modes of thinking, which he thought necessary." In 
Abemethy's after life we think we saw a good deal of 
the wear and tear that early and diversified labor had 
impressed on his physical organization. In advancing 
life, the natural desire for ease, if not carefully guard- 
ed, may not be without its perils ; but precocious labor, 
stinted rest, and the malaria of large cities, crowded 
hospitals, and filthy dissecting-rooms, too certainly bring 
on a train of evils not less grave because more distant. 

We mention these points now. We shall have to 
return to them when, in conclusion, we consider the 
variety and importance of his contributions to the sci- 
ence of his profession, and why they were not still more 
numerous. The latter, though sometimes the less grate- 


fill, is not. seldom the more useful portion of biograph- 
ical analysis. 

Commencing his lectures in Bartholomew Close, they 
soon seem to have attracted notice. His anatomical 
lectures, which were always on a similar plan, were 
very skillfully framed to interest and instruct the stu- 
dents. The arrangement of his matter was such, that 
the dry details of anatomy were lighted up by a de- 
scription not only of the purposes served by the various 
parts, but by as much as could be conveniently in- 
cluded of the diseases or accidents to which they were 
subject, and this juxtaposition of the structure, func- 
tion, and diseases naturally tended to impress the whole. 

Diseases of more general site, and which did not, 
therefore, fall conveniently under discussion in describ- 
ing any one part, were reserved for a separate course 
of lectures. It was in this course that he more fully 
developed those general principles on which his reputa- 
tion more especially rests. Of his inimitable manner 
we shall speak hereafter. 

He was one of the first who insisted on the great 
importance of Comparative Anatomy in studying the 
uses of the various parts of the human body. Were it 
not for the comparison of the relations of various parts 
in different animals, we should be continually the vic- 
tims of hypotheses which the juxtaposition or other 
characters of organs in any one animal are constantly 
suggesting. Here necessity compels the observance 
of that rule in inductive philosophy which seeks not 
for the true relation of any one thing in itself, but from 
universah, from uses and applications which are com- 
mon to other things. In one case nature makes that 
luminously clear which is only dimly shadowed forth in 


another; and in seeing organs under every conceivablo 
variety of circumstance, we learn to estimate at their 
full value characteristics which are common and insep- 
arable from all — the only point whence we can securely 
deduce their real uses in the animal economy. Of this 
Abernethy early inculcated the advantages. 

As it was impossible to combine any thing like a 
comprehensive study of a vast science in the same 
course with lectures on human Anatomy, he was ac- 
customed, at. the conclusion of the course, to devote a 
lecture or two to select illustrations of this very im- 
portant subject. This he ultimately relinquished, the 
universal admission of the fact rendering it no longer 

We shall have occasion, by-and-by, to record the cir- 
cumstances under which one of the most important 
steps was taken for securing the interests of Compara- 
tive Anatomy in this country ; arrangements in a great 
degree owing to the good sense and personal influence 
of Abernethy, and exemplifying in the admirable fit- 
ness of the individual* the penetrative perception of 
character which distinguished his early preceptor in 

We have little doubt that we have now entered on 
the most laborious part of Aberne.thy's life, and that 
during this and some succeeding years his exertions 
were so great and continued, that he laid the founda- 
tion of those ailments which at a comparatively early 
period of life began to imbitter its enjoyment, and 
sti:ewed the onward path with the elements of decay 
and suffering. 

He lectured himself on anatomy, physiology, and 

* Professor Owen 


pathology, besides surgery, subjects which are now 
usually divided between three or four teachers. There, 
is abundant evidence that he was an attentive observer 
of what was going on in the hospital. He was assidu- 
ous in visiting most places where any information was 
to be obtained. We find him attending Mr. Hunter's 
lectures, and constantly meditating on what he heard 
there, thus seeking opportunities of making himself 
more and more familiar with those opinions, which in 
his view, on most of the points to which they related, 
%vere definite — cautiously deduced — not always clear, 
but, when understood, truthful. 

He endeavored further to mature an accurate per- 
ception of Mr. Hunter's views by seeking private con- 
ferences with him, and Hunter kindly afforded him fa- 
cilities for so doing. We have Aberaethy's own ac- 
knowledgment of this, coupled with his regret that he 
could not more frequently avail himself of them. In- 
deed, when we consider that Abernethy lived at this 
time in St. Mary Axe, or in Mildred's Court in the Poul- 
try, that he was lecturing on the sciences I have men- 
tioned, that he was observant of cases at the hospital 
(a very timeful occupation), and consider the distance 
between these points and Mr. Hunter's residence in 
Leicester Square, or his school in Windmill Street, we 
see there could not be much time to spare. It was 
not, however, merely during the time at which he was 
delivering his lectures that he was thus actively em- 
ployed. We have not unfrequently evidence that he 
was often at the hospital late in the day in the most 
leisure season in the year, when perhaps his senior had, 
during his absence in the summer, confided the pa- 
tients to his care. 


We used to get occasionally such passages as these 
in the lectures: "One summer evening as I was cross- 
ing the square of the hospital, a student came running 
to me," &c. Very significant of continued attention 
during the summer of leisure season, he not being, be 
it remembered, other than an assistant surgeon, and 
not, therefore, necessarily having duties at the hospital. 

At this period it was a common practice with him 
to rise as early as four in the morning. He would 
sometimes go away into the country, that he might 
read more free from interruption. He also instituted 
various experiments, some of which we shall have 
shortly to notice for the philosophical spirit by which 
they were conducted. His visit to France must have 
been made about this time, when the celebrated Des- 
sault was at the height of his reputation. His stay 
could not have been long, in all probability; but we 
have evidence showing how quickly he perceived, amid 
the success of Dessault, the more important defects of 
the hospital — the Hotel Dieu — to which he was chi- 
rurgien-en-chef, and the influence exerted by them on 
his practice. 

As we shall be obliged again to mention Dessault in 
connection with a material item in the catalogue of 
our obligations to Abernethy, we postpone for the pres- 
ent any further remarks on that distinguished French 

Abernethy now continued actively engaged in the 
study and teaching of his profession. The most re- 
markable circumstance at this time of his life, and for 
several years, was his peculiar diffidence — an uncon- 
querable shyness, a difficulty in commanding at pleas- 
ure that self-possession which was necessary to open 


his lecture. Every thing connected with his lectures 
is of importance to those who may he called to lecture, 
or to those who may desire to learn. No man has at- 
tained excellence more varied or attractive, yet many 
years elapsed before he had overcome the difficulty to 
which I have alluded. 

An old student, who attended his lectures not ear- 
lier than 1795, told me that he recollected several oc- 
casions on which, before beginning the lecture, he had 
left the theatre for a time, to collect himself sufficient- 
ly to begin his discourse. On these occasions a tumult 
of applause seemed only to increase the difficulty. 
The lecture once commenced, I have no evidence of 
his having exhibited further embarrassment. He seems 
early to have attained that happy manner, which, 
though no doubt greatly aided by his peculiar, and, in 
some sense, dramatic talent, we shall by-and-by see 
reason to believe had been carefully cultivated by 
study and observation. 

His lectures continued to attract a larger and larger 
class, so that it became difficult to find the required 
accommodation for them. The governors of the hos- 
pital, therefore, in 1790, determined on building a reg- 
ular theatre within the hospital. It was finished in 
1791, and Abernethy gave his October courses of anat- 
omy, physiology, and surgery of that year in the new 
theatre. He had thus become the founder of the School 
of St. Batholomew's, which, for the approaches it made 
toward giving a more scientific phase to the practice 
of surgery, was certainly superior to any other. 

In expressing this opinion, we except, of course, 
John Hunter's lectures, for the short time that they 
were contemporaneous with those of Mr. Abernethy ; 


John Hunter dying, as we have said, in 1793. As St. 
Bartholomew's Hospital was our own Alma Mater, we 
may perhaps speak with a fallible partiality, but we 
think not. We are far from being blind to the faults 
which Bartholomew's has, in common with other 
schools, and, we believe, regret, as much as atiy body 
can do, that the arrangements at our hospitals, excel- 
lent as in many respects they are, still should so de- 
fectively supply many of the requisitions which the 
interests of science demand. These defects we shall 
endeavor to point out in their proper place. We shall 
now leave the subject of Mr. Abernethy and his lec- 
tures, and begin to consider some of his earlier efforts 
at authorship, sketch the objects he had in view, and 
the mode of investigation. 


All things are but altered, nothing dies, 
And here or there the unbodied spirit flies. 


The most universal character impressed on all cre- 
ated things that sense allows us to recognize, or phil- 
osophical inquiry to demonstrate, is " change." 

While nothing is more certain, few things pass less 
observed, or when first announced, more stagger con- 

An old man sees the yew-tree of his boyish days 
apparently the same. Gilpin tells us eight hundred 
years is "no great age for an oak !"* 

The cliff, though "beetling," seems to beetle still; 
* " Forest Scenery." 


mountains appear to be everlasting; yet, were seas 
and rivers to disclose even a small part of their mission, 
the Danube or the Volga might tell of millions of tons 
of soil carried from higher levels to the Black Sea and 
the Caspian. Animals, too, are mighty agents in re- 
cording the mutability of the matter of the universe. 
Cora lreefs, never spoken of in smaller terms than miles 
and fathoms, are the vast ocean structures of countless 
millions of animalcules, which serve, as it were, to link 
together the two great kingdoms of organic nature — 
the animal and vegetable creation. The microscopic 
geologist informs us of whole strata well-nigh entirely 
composed of the silicified skeletons of insects. Sir 
Charles Lyell further impresses on us the reality of 
continual change by referring (and, as it would ap- 
pear, with increasing probability) even the stupendous 
changes deduced by geology to the agency of causes 
still in operation. 

Animals, however, besides the curious structures 
which they combine to contribute, are individually un- 
dergoing constant change. Man is not only no excep- 
tion, but ho is a " glaring" example. 

The whole human race are in hourly progress of 
mutation. In the, midst of life we are in death, is a 
truth to which physiology yields its tribute of testimo- 
ny. Every moment we are having the old particles 
of our bodies silently taken away, and new materials 
as silently laid down. Surrounding agencies, which 
during life are necessary to existence, the moment the 
breath leaves us, proceed to resolve the body into the 
elements into which it was composed. In all cases 
change many be regarded as the combined result of 
two forces — the force acting, and the body acted on — 



that is to say, of certain external agents, and certain 
forces inherent in the thing changed. 

Animals are no exceptions to this view, and diseases 
are among a multitude of other exemplifications of it; 
hut, in order to distinguish these more clearly, it is de- 
sirable that we should be familiar with those more 
ordinary changes in the body which are constantly go- 
ing on, and to some of these were Abernethy's early 
investigations directed. 

In proceeding to give some account of his works, 
we must be necessarily more brief than a scientific 
analysis would require. 

To do him full justice, it would be necessary to re- 
publish his writings with appropriate commentaries. 
We shall hope, however, to do enough to relieve his 
memory from some of the numerous misconceptions of 
his principles and opinions, and to endeavor to show 
his claims to the respect and gratitude of posterity. 

In every thing Abernethy did we find evidence of 
the acuteness of his mind, and his general qualifica- 
tions for philosophical research. 

His lectures had gradually attracted an increasing 
number of students ; and he seems, about 1791, to 
have been desirous of prefacing his lectures on Anat- 
omy by discussing the general composition of animal 

The rapid advance of chemistry had given a great 
impetus to this kind of investigation. Abernethy was 
not only well up in the chemistry of the day, but also 
not unskilled in the manipulatory application of it; 
and he felt interested in the great diversity of sub- 
stances that appeared to be made up of similar ele- 
ments. Boyle has recorded a vast number of facts, 


many of which would even now well repay the study- 
ing ; and Fordyce was certainly one of our most phil- 
osophical physicians. 

Boyle had grown vegetables in water and air only, 
and found they produced woody fibre. Fordyce found 
that gold fish placed under similar conditions not only 
lived, but grew. Abernethy's experiments had for 
their object to inquire how far organized bodies (ani- 
mals and vegetables) were capable of deriving their 
various structures from similar simple elements. 

He grew vegetables on flannel wetted from time to 
time with distilled water, and then analyzing them, 
compared the results with those of the analysis of veg- 
etables grown in the ordinary manner. 

Other curious experiments consisted in pouring con- 
centrated acids on vegetable structures, with a view 
to dissolve any alkali or iron which they might contain, 
and then analyzing the vegetables so treated. 

He now found in the burned vegetable, lime, iron, 
&c, which, had they been free to combine, should have 
been taken up by the acid to which he had subjected 
the vegetable before he analyzed it; but he found nei- 
ther in the acid, while both were discovered in the veg- 

He also inquired whether tadpoles and leeches would 
live when kept only in distilled water with the admis- 
sion of air. For example, he placed twelve leeches in 
two gallons of distilled water. They weighed, in all, 
twelve scruples. In three months two had died, but 
the remaining ten weighed twelve scruples, showing 
that they had grown. He next inquired whether veg- 
etables grown in air and distilled water would admit 
of further conversion into the structure of animals, and 


for this purpose he feci rabbits on vegetables so reared. 
His rabbits appear to have eaten about six plates at a 
meal of young cabbages fluid reared on flannel wetted 
with distilled water. 

He also experimented on eggs both before and at the 
time of incubation. 

He wished to ascertain the quantity of lime in the 
chicken and the egg respectively, and whether any of 
the lime was absorbed from the shell, which it appear- 
ed not to be. 

It is curious to observe the time and labor he gave 
to these experiments; they evince a very perfect knowl- 
edge of the chemistry necessary ; and the circumstan- 
ces calculated to interfere with or obscure the conclu- 
sions from them are judiciously stated. 

Many of his remarks exemplify the caution with 
which he reasoned, and they are interspersed with in- 
genious suggestions. In speaking of his experiments 
on leeches and tadpoles, many of which latter had be- 
come perfectly developed frogs, he says, " The experi- 
ments which I made on this plan (in vessels of distill- 
ed water covered with linen) were made in the sum- 
mer, when to prevent vegetation was impossible; and, 
on the other hand, when the vessels were covered over, 
even leeches died. In the winter vegetation might 
cease, but then the torpid state of the animals would 
render the experiments inconclusive." 

He reduced an equal number of eggs and chickens 
(at the time of incubation) to ashes, sometimes in 
crucibles, sometimes in retorts. On the ashes he 
poured some distilled water, and ascertained the salts 
(as lime, &c.) contained in them. In some experi- 
ments the quantity of these found in the ashes of the 


chickens greatly exceeded that found in the ashes of 
the eggs. In other experiments the quantities were 

In souk; of his experiments, after using the best 
chemical tests for detecting iron, lime, salt, and then 
washing the residue with distilled water, he burned it 
in a crucible, and found more lime and iron; on which 
he makes the following remarks, which suggest what 
we apprehend, even at this time, is a very necessary 
caution : 

"This circumstance proves to me that the substan- 
ces found in the ashes of burned animal matter do not 
formally exist in the mass before its destruction, but 
are only new distributions of the same ultimate parti- 
cles which, under their former mode of arrangement, 
made the animal substance, but which being driven, 
as under, by the repulsive power of fire, are left at lib- 
erty to form other modifications of matter." — Page 97. 
Just what happens in the formation of ammonia, when 
animal matter is burned, by the union of the nitrogen 
and hydrogen gases then set free. 

He investigated also the question of how far the re- 
sults of the decomposition of animal matter would be 
identical if the analyses were conducted by heat or by 
putrefactive decomposition. In this experiment he se- 
lected blood, and he found that blood which had been 
allowed to putrefy yielded a much larger quantity of 
iron and lime. 

The whole of the experiments are very suggestive, 
full of thought, and of extensive views of the relations 
of organic with inorganic matter. He concludes by 
observing that he had undertaken these experiments 
for the reasons already assigned, and because he had 


imbibed the idea that the ultimate particles of matter 
were the same. 

He remarks that the progress of chemistry had not, 
been applied, in every respect, to the best purpose ; that 
men's views were becoming contracted by being di- 
rected to individual objects; and that they had ceased 
to contemplate the beautiful and extensive prospect of 
matter and its combinations; and he complains that 
even Fourcroi, Lavoisier, and Chaptal either avoid the 
subject, or do not sufficiently consider it. We must 
recollect this was said before Sir H. Davy had made 
his splendid discoveries. Abernethy, after observing 
that he hopes his experiments will induce others to in- 
vestigate the subject, concludes thus: 

"I know not any thought that, on contemplation, 
can so delight the mind with admiration of the sim- 
plicity and power evident in the operations of the Cre- 
ator, as the consideration that, by different arrange- 
ment and motion of similar atoms. He has produced 
that variety of substances found in the world, and 
which are so conducive to the wants and gratification 
of the creatures who inhabit it." 


Mors sola fatetur 
Quantula smt hominum corpuscula. — Juv. 

Among a multitude of examples, which teach us how 
little we can infer the importance of any thino- in na- 
ture from its size or other impression which it may con- 
vey to mere sense, we might, adduce the wonderful little 
tubes, certain relations of which were the objects of 
this paper. Those constant mutations in animal bod- 
ies, which are every moment in progress, are in great 


part due to a very curious order of vessels of such ex- 
treme minuteness and tenuity, that, being in the dead 
animal usually empty and transparent, they are very 
commonly invisible, and thus long eluded discovery. 
There is one situation, however, in which circumstances 
combine to expose them to observation. Transparent 
though they be, they are here rendered visible, first by 
being loaded with a milk-like fluid, and secondly by 
running along between the folds of a beautifully trans- 
parent membrane (the mesentery). This fluid they 
have just taken up from the digestive surfaces on which 
their mouths open, and they are now carrying it off to 
pour it into the blood-vessels, that it may be added to 
the general stock of the circulation. 

In the situation above mentioned they were at length 
discovered about the commencement of the seventeenth 
century. Every thing destined to support the body 
with new material, as well as the old, which is to be 
taken away, must first be sucked up by the myriads 
of inconceivably minute mouths of these vessels, which, 
from their office, are called the absorbents. These ab- 
sorbents may therefore be regarded as the sentinels of 
the body- They are very sensitive and excitable; but, 
beside this, they have in the course of their journey 
from the surfaces whence they bring their contents, 
and the blood-vessels to which they are carrying them, 
a number of douaniers, or custom-house officers (the 
glands or kernels, as they are popularly called), where- 
by, as we have every reason to believe, the fluids they 
are importing are subjected to rigid examination, and 
if found to be injurious, to some modification, tending 
to render them more fit for admission into the system. 

If the contents are very irritating, these vigilant 


guards — ihese kernels — become very painfully affect- 
ed, and sometimes inflammation is set np, sufficient 
even to destroy the part, as if, faithful to their trust, 
they perished themselves rather than give entrance to 
any thing injurious to the body. 

We should never advance, however, in our story, if 
we were to tell all the interesting peculiarities of these 
curious vessels. 

When first discovered, and the office assigned to them 
could no longer be disputed, the general distribution 
of them was still doubted. As it was usual to render 
them visible by filling them with quicksilver, so, with 
a kind of reasoning which has too often characterized 
mere anatomical research, when they could not be made 
visible, it became the fashion to doubt their existence. 
Among other structures formerly, Bone was one in 
which people found a difficulty. How could such del- 
icate vessels exist in such an apparently dense struc- 
ture ; but Mr. Abernethy who had always opposed mere 
eye-reasoning, used to observe, with equal simplicity 
and good sense, that, for his part, he could see no more 
difficulty in an absorbent taking up a particle of bone, 
than lie would in comprehending how a vessel could 
lay it down, which nobody doubted. We now know 
that bone is not only supplied with all the vessels which 
characterize a living structure, but so liberally, that, in 
comparison with some other structures of the body, we 
regard it as a part of high organization. 

Nevertheless, the extreme minuteness and transpar- 
ency of these vessels conferred a great interest, in ob- 
taining any magnified view of them, such as that af- 
forded in larger animals. In the paper before us, 
which was published in the "Philosophical Transac- 


tions" for 1793, Mr. Abernethy gives the account of his 
examination of the absorbents as a whole, and his ob- 
ject was to help to determine a question long agitated, 
whether the glands or kernels were composed of cells, 
or whether they were merely multiplied convolutions 
of vessels. He selected the absorbents from the sit- 
uation to which I have already referred. He threw 
into the arteries which carry blood to nourish the gland 
a red solution containing wax, which of course became 
solid on cooling; and into the veins which return the 
blood from all parts a similar solution, only colored 
yellow. He rilled the absorbents with quicksilver. 

He found, in filling the absorbents, that wherever 
the quicksilver arrived at a gland, there was a hesita- 
tion — its course became retarded, and that this retard- 
ation was longest at those glands which were nearest 
the source whence the vessels had drawn their con- 
tents, viz., the alimentary canal; as if the surfaces 
over which the fluid had to pass were more multiplied 
where most, necessary, or, recurring to our metaphor, 
as if the more strict douanier had been placed on the 
frontier. He says that he found that some of the ab- 
sorbents went over the glands, while others penetrated 
these bodies ; that he found that the melted wax which 
he had thrown into the vessels had formed round nod- 
ules of various sizes. He then extended his examin- 
ation of these vessels to those of horses and other larwe 
animals, and the result of his investigation was, that 
it inclined him to the conclusion that the glands were 
not merely made of convolutions of vessels, but a real- 
ly cellular structure. 

The paper is very modestly put forth, and he con- 
eludes it by observing that he offers it merely for the 


facts which it contains, and not as justifying any final 
conclusion; but, "as all our knowledge of the absorb- 
ents seems to have been acquired by fragments, I am 
anxious to add my mite to our general stock of in- 
formation on the subject." 

It may not be uninteresting to some unprofessional 
readers to know that the glands here alluded to are the 
organs which are so seriously diseased in those lament- 
table conditions, popularly expressed, I believe, by the 
term mesenteric disease, or disease of the mesentery. 



" The Universal Cause 
Acts to one end, but acts by various laws." — Pope. 

However paradoxical it may appear, it is not the 
less true, that nothing more teachingly impresses the 
inquirer into nature with the actual presence of gen- 
eral laws than the apparent exceptions to them. Fi- 
nite capacities, in dealing with the Infinite, must, of 
course, encounter multitudes of facts, the meaning of 
which they can not interpret — portions of the Divine 
government, as Butler has said, which they do not as 
yet understand. 

In philosophical investigations they are properly re- 
garded as facts which, in the present state of knowl- 
edge, can not be made to fall under any of our very 
limited generalizations. 

At one period, departures from the ordinary struct- 
ure or form in animals were simply regarded as unin- 
telligible abstractions, and no more philosophical ex- 
pression was given to them than " Lusus Naturee" 


sports of nature. Progressing science, however, has 
thrown considerable light on such phenomena, and in- 
vested many of them with a new interest. 

Physiologists have not arrived at the explanation of 
all such facts, but much has been done by comparative 
anatomy to show that many of them are merely arrests 
of development, and cases of interference with the or- 
dinary law. 

That, in fact, they show the mutual harmony and 
connection of the laws of nature to be such that the 
development of any one law implies the concurrence, 
mi lo speak, of some other, just as the successful incu- 
bation of an egg, or any other familiar fact, implies the 
presence of certain conditions. We can not boil a drop 
of water without the concurrence of various laws ; we 
say it boils ordinarily at 212 3 of Fahrenheit; but how 
many conditions this involves! 

Until understood, how few could have guessed that 
mechanical pressure could have so modified the de- 
gree of heat necessary as to exalt it to more than 
double or reduce it to less than half; and again, how 
few would have looked for the force which, under com- 
mon circumstances, governed the point at which water 
was thus converted into steam in the pressure of the 
atmosphere ; yet so mutually influential are these con- 
ditions — namely, heat and a certain pressure in modi- 
fying this change of form or matter — that some of Far- 
aday's most interesting results in experimental chem- 
istry (we allude to his reducing several gaseous bodies 
to the liquid form) were obtained by abstracting heat 
and increasing pressure. 

It is of very great consequence to remember these 
interferences in regard to disease, because most dis- 


eases may be regarded as examples. Regarded as 
" abstract wholes," they are necessarily unintelligible 
entities; but when looked at as natural processes ob- 
scured by interferences, they either at once become in- 
telligible, or, at least, as open to investigation as any 
other facts are in natural philosophy. 

When we investigate the laws of nature with a view 
to the development of the sublime objects of natural 
theology, the concurrence of the various conditions nec- 
essary to the most ordinary phenomenon inclose the 
most irresistible proofs from natural evidence of the 
Unity of the Creator. 

Regarded in the light of facts which we may not be 
able to generalize, the cases here recorded by Aber- 
nethy are very interesting, although we much regret 
that both cases were bodies brought in for dissection, 
in times when the circumstances baffled, if they did 
not forbid, any inquiry into the histories of them. It 
is lamentable to think of the state of the law with re- 
spect to Anatomy at that time. 

Any surgeon who was convicted of mala praxis, re- 
sulting from ignorance of Anatomy, was severely fined, 
perhaps ruined; and yet so entirely unprovided were 
the profession with any legitimate means of studying 
Anatomy, that they could only I.e. obtained by a con- 
nivance at practices the most demoralizing and re- 

Bodies were, in fact, chiefly obtained by the nightly 
maraudings of a set of men, who, uninfluenced alike 
by the repulsions of instinct or the terrors of law, made 
their living by the plunder of grave-yards. 

Many a tale of horror, no doubt, might be told on 
this subject. 


Graves wore sometimes watched, and severe nightly 
conflicts took place with a deadly spirit, which it is not 
difficult to imagine. We believe all this has now pass- 
ed away ; there is no necessity now for such revolting 
horrors. The public began to think for themselves, 
the real remedy for abuses. But to our cases. Both 
were curious ; the one was the body of a boy, who did 
not appear to have been imperfectly nourished, but in 
whom the alimentary canal was found to be less than 
one fourth of its natural length, and in which also the 
relative length of its two grand divisions was reversed ; 
the smaller in diameter, being usually very much the 
longest, was so much the shorter as to be only half the 
length of the division of larger diameter. 

The other case, presented a no less curious departure 
from the usual plan than a reversed position of the 
heart, which, instead of being placed with its apex on 
the left side, was situated on the, right. In the ordi- 
nary arrangement, there is a difference on the two sides 
of the body in the manner in which the large vessels 
are snven off to supply the head and upper extremities. 
These existed, but were reversed ; those usually found 
on the right being now on the left side, and vice versa. 

The heart, however, would not be thus prevented 
from pumping the blood to all parts as usual, but an- 
other very singular arrangement was found in relation 
to the liver. To the unprofessional reader we should 
observe, that usually, while all parts are made, or se- 
creted, as we term it, from the purer or arterial blood, 
in the human bodv the Bile is secreted from a vein 
which enters the liver for that purpose. 

Now, in the case before us, this great vein never 
entered the liver at all, so that in this instance the 


Bile was separated, like other animal fluids, by the arte- 
ries ; in this case, the arteries going to the liver being 
larger than usual. 

Mr. Abernethy examined the bile by submitting it 
to various tests, and, comparing the results with those 
obtained from ordinary bile, found them to be the 
same. His remarks are, as usual, ingenious and to 
the point, and very characteristic of the penetrative 
perception with which he seized on the proximate and 
practical relations of facts. " When we see the un- 
usual circumstance," says he, " of secretion taking 
place from a vein,* we are apt to conclude that the 
properties of such a secretion require that it should be 
made from venous blood. But in this case we see that 
bile could be prepared from arterial blood ; and we are 
led, therefore, so far to modify our conclusion as to in- 
fer, not that venous blood is necessary but that it can 
be made to answer the purpose." 

We must not omit that these remarks are supported 
by comparative anatomy. As we descend in the scale 
of creation from the more complicated organizations to 
those which are more simple in their structure or their 
relations, the arrangement which I have stated as usual 
in man no longer obtains, but the bile is secreted from 
the arteries as the other fluids of the animal, showing, 
in fact, that the inference drawn by Abernethy was 
the legitimate conclusion. 

Since the discovery of this case, one or two others 
have been observed ; and the opinions of several emi- 
nent men in relation to the bearing such cases have on 
the ordinary sources of bile, are described in Mr. Kier- 
nan's interesting paper on the Anatomy and Physiology 
* Ttie ordinary plan in respect to bile in the human body. 


of the Liver, in the " Philosophical Transactions." It 
is very interesting, particularly to a professional reader, 
to peruse that discussion, in order to estimate Mr. 
Abernethy's comparatively simple, ready, and, as it 
would seem, correct view of the subject. 

One other thing we learn from these cases — the ex- 
treme importance of examining bodies while their his- 
tories and symptoms can be recorded. It might have 
been highly useful to science had the histories of these 
cases been known ; and the circumstance should be 
mentioned as, in some measure, tending to counter- 
balance in the public that not unnatural but (as re- 
gards their real interest) not less to be lamented aver- 
sion to the inspection of the dead — a branch only, it is 
true, but a very important one of physiological inquiry. 
It is the only means by which we can have the com- 
fort of knowing that, however unable we may have 
been to arrest disease, we were at least right in the 
seat we had assigned to it ; but it is infinitely more 
valuable in disclosing to us affections of organs which 
had given no sign, and in thus impressing on us the 
necessity of taking a wider range in our investigations, 
and comprehending in them all those injurious influ- 
ences which have, at various periods, acted on the 
body, for we thus obtain an insight into the nature of 
disease which no mere symptoms can ever afford us. 

The repulsions which the public have to overcome 
are admitted ; but let us not, in common justice, forget 
those sacrifices of time, labor, and too often of health 
also, which are made by the profession. Nor is it im- 
material to mention that it is a service for which they 
seldom receive any remuneration, the usual incentive 
being one which, if it excite no sympathy, is at least 


entitled to our respect, namely, the desire to improve 
their knowledge of their profession. There is no doubt 
of the deep and common interest which the public and 
the profession have in this question, and it is from that 
conviction that I have ventured on these few remarks. 
Abernethy, when he introduced any subject in his lec- 
tures, was accustomed to say at once all that he in- 
tended to remark on it. I beg, in the foregoing observ- 
ations, to follow his example, which I trust the reader 
will accept as an apology for the digression. 


L'art (de delicatesse) consiste a ne pas tout dire sur certains sujets, 
a glisser dessus plutot que d'y appuyer; en un mot, a en laisser pen- 
ser aux autres plutot que Ton n'en dit. — Bouhours. 

One of the most beautiful poems in the English 
language, perhaps, is Armstrong's "Art of Health." 
Whether it be that the title is uninviting, or from 
some other cause, I know not, but it is very little read ; 
but scarcely any one who has read it has done so with- 
out pleasure. Besides containing many admirable and 
valuable instructions, it shows how an ordinary, and, 
to many, even a repulsive subject can be treated with 
such discretion, taste, and even elegance, as to render 
it pleasing and attractive. 

Such a writer could have conveyed, even in prose, 
explanations of disease, so as to interest and instruct 
his readers. With no such power, we are almost in- 
clined to regret the impossibility of doing Abernethy 
justice without saying something of nearly all his 
works. If, however, in so doing, we make one more 


step toward familiarizing the public with matters 
which affect their best interests, we shall not regret 
any labor which this, the most difficult part of our 
task, may have required. 

We usually connect pain with disease, and in our 
haste are prone to imagine that pain is not only the 
worst feature, but the only sign of it. "I am very 
well, I am in no pain whatever," is a common expres- 
sion, and yet a person may be irremediably stricken 
without suffering any pain. Pain is, in fact, often the 
best possible monitor, and has saved many thousands 
of lives by the necessity it has imposed of observing 
what is the best of all remedies in a large class of 
cases. Among hundreds of examples, w^ may cite va- 
rious affections of joints, wherein pain alone has some- 
times secured that which surgeons were a long time 
before they had learned the full advantage of, and 
which, when they had been taught it by Abernethy, 
they have often failed with all their endeavors to ac- 
complish, and which, singly considered, is of more con- 
sequence than any other remedy — we mean "absolute 
repose*." There are plenty of diseases marked by lit- 
tle or no pain, or which, at all events, are not painful, 
but they are among the most fatal and insidious of 
human maladies. Let us, for the sake of registering 
one among the numerous improvements we owe to the 
genius of Abernethy, mention one of them. 

We have too many of us, I dare say, observed some- 
thing like the following on the assembling of a family 
of a morning; the usual greetings interchanged, and 
that cheerful meal, breakfast, fairly begun, our atten- 
tion has been directed to some fine, comely, perhaps 
beautiful girl, who, to the hilarious spirits of her laugh- 


ing sisters, has contributed a somewhat languid smile 
We may, perhaps, have remarked that she is a little 
more spoken to by her mother than any other of the 
family circle; we may, too, have observed a tone com- 
pounded of confidence and gentleness, somewhat dif- 
ferent from that addressed to her sisters. Still, though 
less hilarious than the rest, she has chatted away with 
considerable cheerfulness. But she has a languor in 
her manner, which, but for the surrounding contrast, 
might not have occurred to us. On rising from the 
breakfast-table, we observe that her gait is peculiar. 
She is not lame, but her step has something between 
firmness and faltering, that seems to indicate more ef- 
fort or less power. 

Poor girl ! she is about to have, if she have it not 
already, a stealthy and hitherto almost painless dis- 
ease; a stealthy, because it is so far a comparatively 
painless malady. Deep in the loins there has been the 
smouldering fire of disease, which is to result in what 
is called "Lumbar abscess." This grievous malady, 
which in many instances begins not less insidiously 
than I have mentioned, is found, on inquiry, not to 
have been ivholly without some of those premonitory 
signs with which the beneficent laws of the animal 
economy almost invariably precede even the most in- 
sidious malady. Inquiry generally elicits that, how- 
ever little complained of, there has been at times more 
or less of uneasiness or pain felt in the loins; that it 
has not been so much lately, but that it has become 
less in force or frequency since the appearance of some 
swelling, which may be in the loins, or some other 
part lower or more or less distant. 

It is a malady very commonly connected with dia- 


eased spine, but frequently without any such compli- 
cation; and it is curious that Mr. Abernethy at first 
met with as many as, I think, eight cases in succes- 
sion which were not complicated with any disease of 
the spine. Under any circumstances, it is a serious 
malady, and usually, when the collection bursts or is 
opened, severe constitutional symptoms supervene, 
which, though not without exceptions, gradually usher 
in what Armstrong calls 

" The slow minings of the hectic fire," 
and destroy the patient. 

Now Mr. Abernethy's plan was intended to prevent 
this last and dreaded issue. The chief points of ex- 
cellence in his recommendations are, first, the emphatic 
recognition of the constitutional origin and nature of 
the malady; secondly, the consequent necessity of a 
greater attention to the general health of the patient; 
and, lastly, if it could not be dispersed, to relieve the 
interior of its contents, so that its extensive surface 
should never be exposed. 

The mode of proceeding was extremely simple, and 
there is no doubt that a great many lives have been 
saved by the practice thus recommended. But I have 
heard that some surgeons think the merits of the plan 
overrated, which I can only suppose explicable on the 
ground that the plan has been imperfectly followed ; 
and I am the more disposed to this view, because noth- 
ing can be more entirely opposed to Mr. Abernethy's 
views and intentions than the treatment of many cases 
said to have been treated after Mr. Abernethy's plan. 

As a considerable number of families have really a 
painful interest in this question, I will, at the risk of 
bein" a little professional, state what has occurred to 


me on the subject, in explanation of the apparent dis- 
crepancy. My own experience obliges me to coincide 
with those authorities on this subject who, approving 
Mr. Abernethy's practice, adopted it. Among a host 
of eminent men, I will mention only two, Sir Astley 
Cooper, and a scarcely less eminent authority, Mr. Sam- 
uel Cooper, the laborious and distinguished author of 
the " Surgical Dictionary," who observes that Mr. 
Abernethy's plan deserves "infinite praise." Sir Ast- 
ley Cooper, too, in speaking of a very dangerous period 
of the ease, to which Mr. Abernethy's plan has an im- 
portant relation, says, " We should adopt. Ihe plan sug- 
gested by Mr. Abernethy, as it is the best ever invent- 
ed by any surgeon." The apparent discrepancy in the 
results of experience of different surgeons is a matter 
of degree, and admits of easy explanation. 

The feature whence the disease derives its name is 
merely a partial exposition of an exceedingly deranged 
state of the whole economy, not unfrequently compli- 
cated with organic disease. Although Mr. Abernethy's 
cases show that even these cases are not necessarily 
fatal, still, in general, such will, sooner or later, ter- 
minate unfavorably under any treatment; but in many 
others, the explanation which I first sur^ested is a 
satisfactory solution of the failure. In some, the lo- 
cal relief has been by no means conducted with the 
observance of those conditions which Mr. Abernethy 
has enjoined; in others, there has not been any rea- 
sonable approximation to that careful attention to the 
general health which is the necessary basis of the plan. 

Another point which has, in some cases, impeded the 
adoption of the practice, is the increased responsibility 
it seems to involve. If a surgeon is to be mistrusted, 


and charged with either, the "laisser mourir" is less 
injurious to him than the "tuer." What, we mean is 
this: Every thing sometimes is going on well until the 
opening of the deposited fluid. If it be left to open by 
the ordinary processes of nature, the subsequent symp- 
toms are ascribed to the usual course of the disease; 
but if the surgeon has interfered, and, from any cir- 
cumstance whatever, the opening docs not heal, or 
bursts soon after from some slight accident (which has 
now and then happened), the surgeon is blamed. The 
only remedy for this is to impress the necessary cau- 
tion — repose of the part, and so forth. 

There is, however, a third point of great practical 
consequence on which Mr. Abernethy has been mis- 
understood — I allude to the local condition under which 
the puncture should be made. When, notwithstand- 
ing our persevering observance of all measures calcu- 
lated to repress the diseased actions, or to procure the 
absorption of the deposited fluid, we perceive it to be 
increasing or approaching the surface, then, before, any 
inflammation of the skin has taken place, it should be 

In many cases, this opening has been delayed until 
the skin has become inflamed or much attenuated. 
Now this risks the accomplishment of an object which 
it is a material point with Mr. Abernethy to secure, 
namely, the immediate healing- of the puncture. 

On this point, even so good an authority as Sir Ast- 
ley Cooper has given a misdirection. "Let the ab- 
scess proceed," says Sir Astley, "until you observe a 
blush or redness on the skin, and then adopt Mr. Aber- 
nethy's plan." Now this direction does not absolutely 
prohibit the opening of the cyst with the object which 


Mr. Abernethy had in vie-w, but, as before stated, it 
deprives us of one desirable condition. To settle this 
point, we quote Mr. Abernethy's own words. In dis- 
cussing the point of time at which the opening should 
be made, he asks, ''Are we to wait until evident signs 
of inflammation appear ? I think not." Accordingly, 
in a case where the surface had become red, we find 
he took care to avoid opening it at that part, because 
it risked the security of at once healing the puncture. 

The truth is, that the whole of the plan is most val- 
uable, but it must be carefully followed in its integ- 
rity ; and that this may be done, the principles on which 
it is founded must be constantly kept in view. These 
are: the improvement of the general health with the 
view of arresting the action of disease and producing 
the absorption of the morbid secretion; this failing, to 
puncture the abscess, so as to secure the evacuation 
of its contents without the admission of air, and on 
conditions calculated to insure the healing of the 
wound ; then to favor the approximation of the sides 
of the cavity by relieving it of its contents, by punc- 
turing it anew before it shall have become so much 

Another misapprehension has arisen with regard to 
Mr. Abernethy's object in excluding air, and unnec- 
essary pains have been taken to show that the pres- 
ence of air is not injurious to living surfaces. It was 
not from any apprehension of this kind that he was 
anxious to exclude the air, but from the tendency that 
the presence of air had to favor the putrefactive de- 
composition of the new secretion. We must not omit 
to mention the origin of this beautiful paper, as it is 
highly characteristic of Abernethy's acuteness of ob- 


servation, and his promptitude in the practical appli- 
cation of it. 

A lumbar abscess had been opened by caustic, and 
when the eschar partially separated, the cyst was part- 
ly emptied ; the sides of the cavity collapsing on the 
imperfectly separated eschar, the opening was closed, 
and none of the usual constitutional disturbance fol- 
lowed. When, however, the eschar, finally separating, 
exposed the cyst, within twelve hours the usually dread- 
ed disturbance of the system supervened. Abernethy 
took the hint thus disclosed to him, and produced the 
improvement, the merits of which we have endeavored 
to give a brief representation. 



"It is madness and a contradiction to expect that things which 
were never yet performed should be effected, except by means hith- 
erto untried." — Bacon, Nov. Org., Aph. 6. 

This simple and instructive aphorism, when we con- 
sider the object of the distinguished author in the im- 
mortal work whence it is taken, is highly suggestive 
to those who are aware of the present state of medicine 
and surgery, and who desire to see them become a def- 
inite science. Nor does it appear inappropriate to the 
consideration of Abernethy's experimental inquiries into 
the functions of the skin and lungs. An extended in- 
vestigation, of which this paper contains an excellent 
type, and is, in part, a practical application, would be 
a great step toward tbe creation of a real science, and 
would certainly fall within the " means untried" of 
Lord Bacon. 


Although the latter part of the last century, and the 
first half of the present, have been very remarkable for 
the number of distinguished men who have flourished 
during that period, in almost every branch of knowl- 
edge, yet neither the bar nor the senate, neither litera- 
ture nor any of the sciences, can boast of greater men, 
nor lay claim to' more positive improvement than Chem- 

If we only consider that interval between the dis- 
covery of oxygen by Priestley in 1774, and the con- 
clusion of Sir Humphrey Davy's labors, Chemistry al- 
most seems like a new science; and it continues to 
advance with such rapidity, and is daily opening out 
so many new questions, that the most accomplished 
chemist of one year is never sure how much he may 
have to learn the next, nor, unless he reasons with great 
caution, how much he may have to wwlearn. 

To a physiologist who requires assistance from all 
branches of science, Chemistry must always be an in- 
teresting study. When we lay aside all speculations 
as to what is the abstract nature of Life, and study 
that which is the proper object of philosophy — that to 
which it seems the faculties of man are limited — 
namely, the laws in obedience to which the phenomena 
in nature occur, and apply the knowledge thus obtained 
to the occurrences which take place in the human 
body, we soon discover that, whatever the abstraction 
" Life" may be, we live proximately in virtue of certain 
changes in various forms of matter, as food, air, the va- 
rious constituents of our bodies, &c, and that these con- 
sist of multiplied separations and re-arrangements of 
their respective elements, which it is the special prov- 
ince of Chemistry to examine. 


If we investigate the changes of the living or the 
structure of the dead with these objects, we shall be in 
no danger of abusing Chemistry to purposes to which 
it is inapplicable. When, however, we proceed a step 
further, and seek to give a chemical expression to va- 
rious uses and relations of different parts of the body, 
the greatest caution is required. 

In the first place, in a machinery which is a prac- 
tical application of a great many sciences, it is to the 
last degree improbable that they can be expressed by 
any one. 

Again, to estimate the true meaning — the physio- 
logical interpretation of many changes, which might be 
in their proximate sense chemical — a greater famili- 
arity with the phenomena of disease is necessary than 
usually falls within the inquiries of the most scientific 

To a person acquainted only with the ordinary phe- 
nomena of health, Chemistry is forever suggesting 
tempting analogies, which are constantly tending to 
mislead him to conclusions on insufficient data, and to 
examine and rest too much on the chemical facts de- 
ducible from one or other function, without sufficiently 
attending to the physiological relations of that func- 
tion with all others. 

In fact, for want of due caution, or, it may be, of a 
sufficient range of information, the assistance which 
Chemistry has hitherto rendered to Physiology has 
been attended with so many assumptions, that it is 
extremely difficult to say on which side the balance 
lies — of advantage or error. We are aware that at 
this moment there is a contrary feeling — a kind of 
furore for chemical solution of physiological phenom- 



ena. "We believe the caution we venture on suggest- 
ing was never more necessary. 

The discovery of oxygen gas by Priestley not only 
gave a great impetus to chemical inquiries, but affect- 
ed Physiology in a very remarkable manner ; when it 
was found that the more obvious phenomena of all 
cases of ordinary burning, lamps, candles, and fires of 
every kind, consisted of the chemical union of charcoal 
and oxygen (carbonic acid), and again, when it was 
discovered that animals in breathing somehow or other 
produced a similar change, one may conceive how 
ready every one was to cry, " I have found it ! The 
heat of animals is nothing more than combustion ! 
We inhale oxygen ; we breathe out carbonic acid ; the 
thing is plain. This is the cause of animal heat!" 

It has always struck us as a curious thing that 
chemists should have attached such a dominant influ- 
ence in the production of heat in animals to the union 
of carbon and oxygen, because nobody is necessarily 
so familiar as they are with the fact that the evolution 
of heat is not at all peculiar to the union of these bod- 
ies, but is a circumstance common to all changes of 
every kind, in all forms of matter, there always being 
either the absorption or the evolution of heat. 

There is no doubt that the analogy is very striking 
between the changes which appear to be wrought in 
respiration and those which take place in ordinary 
combustion. A very little consideration shows thai 
the idea that respiration is the cause of animal heat, 
or that it is due to any other change of oxygen, is nol 
only an assumption, but in the highest degree doubt- 
ful. In the first place, the carbonic acid thrown out 
when we expire is certainly not made by the imme- 


diate union of oxygen with charcoal expired ; secondly, 
nothing is so clear that in respiration there is an im- 
mense quantity of heat thrown out of the body. But 
as it is very desirable that the subject of this paper of 
Abernethy's on the Skin and Lungs should be under- 
stood, we will give the reader a simple view of the 
nature of these important organs ; and as one (func- 
tionally considered) is as much a breathing organ as 
the other, we will say a few words first of the lungs. 

In all animals, the blood, or other fluid in which the 
elements of nutrition are sent to all parts, is exposed 
to the action of the air, and this is what we call breath- 
ing or respiration ; and the exposing of the blood to air 
is so arranged that both fluids are in more or less rap- 
id motion. The staple constituents of the air, so to 
speak, are about one fifth oxygen and four fifths nitro- 
gen gases, with about two parts perhaps in a thousand 
of carbonic acid ; and although, as we too well know, 
the air is occasionally polluted by many additions, yet, 
whether we take air from the top of Mont Blanc or a 
cellar in London, the staple principles of oxygen and 
nitrogen have their proportions unchanged. The air 
breathed by animals who live in the water is somewhat 
differently constituted ; the proportion of oxygen is con- 
siderably greater, probably about as much as one third, 
or thirty-two parts in one hundred ; so that fish breathe 
a more highly oxygenated air than we do. 

Now it is found that when we inhale the air of the 
atmosphere (that is to say, one fifth oxygen and four 
fifths nitrogen), we expire some oxygen, some carbonic 
acid, and some nitrogen also ; and to ascertain the act- 
ual changes which took place was the object of Aber- 
nethy's inquiry. 


The subject is one of great interest to the public, 
and, in justice to Abernethy, we should remark that 
this essay was written more than half a century ago — 

Thousands die every year of affections of the lungs; 
and many diseases of these organs, if not in their na- 
ture incurable, have too generally, in practice, proved 
to be so. There are not wanting, however, many per- 
sons who ascribe these mournful results, not so much 
to the abstract difficulty of the case, as to imperfect 
and erroneous views of the functious and relations of 
these important organs, and who entertain the opinion 
that the investigation of the subject has been either 
from preconceived notions, from a too limited view of 
the phenomena, or from some other cause, so infelici- 
tously conducted, that the conclusions arrived at have 
been either merely assumptions, extremely doubtful, 
or absolutely erroneous. 

It is sufficiently obvious, that if we are ignorant of 
the use of any part of a machine, it must be the most 
unlikely thing in the world that we should know how 
to set about repairing it when it is out of order, and 
the matter must be still worse if we should happen to 
ascribe a use to it which is different or contrary to that 
which it really fulfills. So, in an animal, if we are ig- 
norant of the use and relations of any organ, it is very 
improbable that we can understand the nature of its 
disorders, or treat them in any case successfully, except 
by the merest accident, which, though it may waken 
us up to a sense of our ignorance, leaves us so blind to 
the causes of our success that we have no power of re- 
peating it. 

Now this is pretty much the actual state of affairs 


in respect to diseases of the lungs. No investigation 
of any organ is worth any thing, unless it include its 
relations with other organs in the same machine. 

What should we ever learn by looking at the main- 
spring of a watch apart from the general machinery 
to which it belongs? Though we should look forever, 
and employ a microscope to boot, it is clear we should 
never arrive at the perception of its true relations. 

Abernethy's inquiry derived great interest from the 
investigation of the skin by which it was preceded, and 
which seems to have formed his primary object. A 
few words on this wonderful organ may help the un- 
professional reader to form some estimate of its rela- 
tions and importance. As in all animals it is the sur- 
face in immediate contact with external influences^ 
the first which attracts our notice — so it is of all oth- 
ers the first which presents to us the evidence of de- 
sign and adaptation. We tell the climate an animal 
inhabits with moderate certainty by looking at the 
skin; and if we occasionally meet with apparent ex- 
ceptions, further examination usually shows that they 
exemplify the more strikingly the unity of plan. Thus 
we may find animals who inhabit hot regions furnish- 
ed with a somewhat warm covering of the skin, as the 
tiger, for example ; but when we examine the eye, 
and inquire into the habits of the animal, we find that 
he preys or feeds at night, when the atmosphere is 
charged with damp and cold. 

We know that the animals whence we obtain our 
furs inhabit cold regions. The changes in the same 
animal are not less instructive. Animals placed in 
certain circumstances, in which they require greater 
warmth, have increase of covering, and vice versa. 


Again, the tendency to become white, in those inhab- 
iting cold regions, is a very interesting adaptation, al- 
though I am not aware that it has been satisfactorily 
explained. Two things, however, are certain, that they 
are placed in different circumstances as regards the 
relation to heat, and would reflect great quantity of 
light, which, in its intensity in snowy regions, might 
be prejudicial, as there is no doubt of the influence of 
this principle in animals. Again, it is a very common 
arrangement that animals should take the color of the 
ground they occupy; and this is sometimes very curi- 
ously exemplified. I have observed in the common 
hunting-spiders, which inhabit some palings in a gar- 
den in the country, that they are of different shades, 
but they all more or less resemble that part of the 
old paling on which they are found. Those which we 
see on the ground are generally of some darker color. 
Birds exemplify in a very remarkable manner the 
adaptation of their external coverings to the requisi- 
tions which their habits establish. All animals may 
be said to be surrounded by an atmosphere of theii 
own, and they are not, therefore, strictly speaking, 
in contact with the atmosphere ; but when they are 
exposed to air in motion, this stratum is blown aside, 
and the atmosphere is brought in contact with the 
surface. Its refrigerating influence is now felt ; and 
just as a boy cools his broth by blowing on it, a 
fresh stratum of cold air is constantly brought to the 

This is variously met in different animals; in the 
healthy human subject, by increased activity of the ves- 
sels of the skin, which induces greater heat. Bird:?, in 
their rapid flight, and especially in the more elevated 


regions of the atmosphere, are exposed to intensely re- 
frigerating influences. These are met by the surface 
being clothed first by fine feathers, the worst of all con- 
ductors of heat, and these are overlapped where they 
meet the atmosphere in such a way that the bad con- 
ducting property of the feathers is increased by the me- 
chanical arrangement of them. Again, the respiration 
of birds, which, as we contend, is a refrigerating process, 
is very restricted, although, for want of due considera- 
tion of all the circumstances, and especially of certain 
analogies afforded by insects, very opposite views have 
been entertained. Domestic animals (birds inclusive) 
impressively suggest the refined adaptation of color 
even, of the whole surface, to the altered position of the 
individual. Nothing is more striking than the general 
uniformity of color in wild animals, few things more 
familiar than their infinitely varied hues when domes- 
ticated. Now it is certain that these differences have 
a meaning, and that their relations are important ; but 
when we extend these thoughts from the coverings of 
animals to the consideration of surface whether of ani- 
mals or vegetables, what wonderful things occur to us. 
Every variety of coloring which we observe in domestic 
animals, every spot on an insect's wing, every penciling 
on a flower, places the individual in a different relation, 
so far, to light, heat, and other powerful agents in nature. 
Or, if we look from another point of view, we can 
not walk by a hedgerow in summer without observ- 
ing how very small the differences of light and aspect 
are, which seem, on the same soil, to confer on the same 
species of flowers such numerous varieties of color. I 
have most frequently observed this in the common 
crane's-bill, or wild geranium. 


In order to estimate correctly the value of these sur- 
faces to the animal or vegetable, it is obviously of great 
importance to us to know what they do, and, if they 
give oft" any thing, to ascertain its nature. That either 
animal or vegetable may be healthy, the processes of 
nature, whatever they are, must be carried on; and 
we may be assured that the fragrance of the rose is 
just as necessary an exhalation from the plant, as it is 
an agreeable impression to us. 

But all animals may be said to breathe quite as 
much by their skin as by their lungs. Leaves, too, 
are the breathing surfaces of vegetables ; and therefore, 
to ascertain the facts in the one without inquiring into 
those observable in the other, would be likely to fog 
our reasoning and falsify our conclusions. The first 
impression we obtain from all animals is from external 
form and appearance — from, in fact, its outward cov- 
ering. It was the first organ to which Abernethy de- 
voted his most particular attention, and here again his 
investigations show how little those knew of his mind 
who imagined that his thoughts were restricted to any 
one set of organs. 

In whatever light we view it, the skin is, in all ani- 
mals, a most important organ, and so much so as drolly 
enough, with the exception of the human subject, to 
have been long popularly familiar. Yet so imperfect 
have been the investigations of its functions, that we 
are at this moment chiefly indebted to the early ex- 
periments of Abernethy for what we know that is pos- 
itive on the subject, The original experiments of 
Sanctorius were quantitative, and, as general truths, of 
sufficient importance to have excited more attention. 
Cruikshank's were highly acceptable, but they were 


less numerous and less varied than those of Ahernethy, 
while the labors of Edwards, though exhibiting great 
industry and zeal, were by no means so conclusive as 
those of Abernethy. Edwards's experiments served to 
strengthen and confirm, by the analogy afforded by 
other animals, conclusions drawn by Abernethy from 
the more secure premises furnished by the observation 
of corresponding functions in man. 

Mr. Abernethy's inquiry was first directed to ascer- 
tain what the skin actually gave off from the body, 
and, secondly, what changes took place in the air 
which we draw into the lungs (inspiration). "We 
will endeavor to give some idea of these experi- 
ments. They were very simple — they involved no 
cruelty like those of Edwards — and they were many 
of them such as the public might repeat without dif- 

Very useful would it be if persons who have leisure 
would sometimes engage in physiological inquiries. 
They would find them to be extremely interesting, 
and a series of facts would be easily collected, from 
which the physiologist might obtain the most valuable 
information, but which, engaged as most of them are 
in applying physiology to the correction of disordered 
functions, they can seldom collect for themselves, ex- 
cept in a few hours stolen from those occupied in an 
arduous profession, and perhaps by the sacrifice of par- 
amount duties. 

Mr. Abernethy's experiments were very numerous, 
and commenced in the summer of 1791 ; but the win- 
ter's cold obliging him to desist, they were renewed 
in the spring of 1792. Having referred to the experi- 
ments of Ingenhous and Cruikshank, together with an 



allusion to a paper (not then made public) by Lavoi- 
sier, he proceeds to describe his own. 

Having a trough containing a large quantity of 
quicksilver, he. filled a glass jar (sufficiently capacious 
to contain his hand and wrist) with that metal. He 
inverted it into the trough in the usual way of pro- 
ceeding in collecting gases. He fixed the glass jar in 
a sloping position, that he might introduce his hand 
the more readily beneath the quicksilver. In this way, 
whatever was given off from the skin of the hand, ris- 
ing through the quicksilver to the top of the glass, and 
of course displacing a proportionate quantity of quick- 
silver, could be made the subject of analysis. 

He describes his first experiment as follows: "I held 
my hand ten minutes in the jar beneath the surface 
of the quicksilver, and frequently moved it in that sit- 
uation, in order to detach any atmospheric air that 
might accidentally adhere to it, and afterward intro- 
duced it into the inverted jar. The quicksilver soon 
acquired a degree of warmth which rendered it not 
unpleasant. Minute air-bubbles ascended to the top 
of the quicksilver more speedily in the beginning of 
the experiment, more tardily toward the conclusion. 
After an hour had elapsed I withdrew my hand; the 
bubbles of air which now appeared on the top of the 
quicksilver were, I suppose, in bulk equal to one scru- 
ple of water. 

"In sixteen hours I collected a half-ounce measure 
of air, which makes fifteen grains the averaged prod- 
uct of an hour. No kind of moisture appeared on the 
surface of the quicksilver. Some sucking-paper was 
put up, which was withdrawn unmoistened. My hand 
was always damp when taken out of the quicksilver. 



Whatever aqueous perspiration was produced adhered 
to its surface, while the aeriform ascended to the top 
of the jar. To the air I had thus collected I threw up 
lime-water,* when about two thirds of it were rapidly 
absorbed ; to the remainder I added a bubble of nitrous 
gas,t but could not discover any red fumes, nor any 
diminution of the quantity. I repeated this experi- 
ment six times with similar, though not uniform re- 
sults. I believe it will be found that the air perspired 
consists of carbonic gas, or fixed air, a little more than 
two thirds; of nitrogenous gas, a little less than one 
third. In one experiment the nitrogen made only one 
fourth part of the air collected; in another I thought 
it exceeded one third." 

He then made a series of experiments of the same 
kind, but substituting water for the quicksilver, some- 
times heating himself previously by exercise. The re- 
sults of these were not materially different from those 
in which he held his hand in quicksilver, but they are 
less clear, because the carbonic acid gas given off 
seemed absorbed by the wajer. In the next series of 
experiments he held his hand and arm in atmospheric 
air. In this case he found that, in addition to the 
giving off of carbonic acid, a portion of the oxygen of 
the air became absorbed. This is exactly what hap- 
pens in the lungs. Now, as the carbonic acid, when 
given off, is in both cases accompanied by the disap- 
pearance of oxygen, and as carbonic acid is composed 
of oxygen and carbon, it had been usually conceived 
that the oxygen taken in contributed to form the car- 
bonic acid given off, and the idea is still entertained 
very generally. 

* The test for carbonic acid. 

t A test for the presence of oxygen. 


The experiments of Abernethy, however, presently 
to be adverted to, in regard to the skin, and those of 
Edwards long after, in regard to the lungs, satisfacto- 
rily prove, we think, that the carbonic acid is not at 
all derived in the manner supposed.* 

To test this matter, Mr. Abernethy confined his hand 
and arm in various gases containing no oxygen, as 
hydrogen, and then in nitrogen, but he found the car- 
bonic acid gas still given off as before. He then placed 
his hand in a gas containing oxygen (nitrous oxide), 
and lastly in oxygen itself, to see if it increased or 
otherwise affected the elimination of carbonic acid, 
but in neither of those experiments was the carbonic 
acid thrown off increased, or in any way affected by it. 

In a subsequent part of the paper, he remarks on 
the idea that physiologists entertained of the carbonic 
acid given off by the lungs being made by the oxygen 
inspired; but he says very justly that the quantity of 
oxygen is too small for the formation of so much car- 
bonic acid gas as we find given out by those bodies, 
and that his experiments* on the skin clearly prove 
that the exhaling vessels of the skin emit carbonic 
acid in a state of complete formation, and then adds, 
what it is difficult to estimate the merits of, without 
recollecting that it was said half a century ago (and 
before the experiments of Edwards), and, "doubtless, 
those of the lungs perform a similar office." 

This is one of those bold, and, we believe, success- 
ful reasonings from analogy which were very character- 

* It is in this paper that he uses the significant expression " ven- 
tilating the blood," which looks as if the refrigerating effect of res- 
piration — and which we have endeavored to show is the real purpose 
of it — had not wholly escaped his notice. 


istic of Abernethy. The truth is, that even the exper- 
iments of Edwards, some of which some years ago we 
repeated ourselves with the same results, are not, I con- 
ceive, so conclusive as the analogy of Abernethy. It is 
true they consisted of placing frogs and other animals 
in gases not containing oxygen, when it was found not- 
withstanding that there was no difference in the car- 
bonic acid produced, and which therefore could not 
have been compounded of any oxygen in the gas. But 
even here many possible sources of fallacy suggest 
themselves. The previous expulsion of all the oxygen 
from the animal is obviously a matter of uncertainty. 
These are, besides, those sources of fallacy which are 
inseparable in some form or other from all experiments 
on animals which disturb their natural habits, espe- 
cially when these disturbances are so great as to 
amount to suffering. From all such experiments Aber- 
nethy instinctively shrunk. His repulsion to them 
seems not to have rendered it necessary to him to have 
shown that they were as physiologically inconclusive 
as they are morally questionable. At all events, his 
present experiments were not obscured by any such 
source of fallacy. 

Still, the idea of the carbonic acid exhaled by the 
lungs being made up of the union of the carbon ex- 
haled with the oxygen taken in, continue to be very 
extensively entertained. We can only say that to us 
it seems entirely a child of the imagination — what Hor- 
ace calls 

" Mentis gratissimus error," 

and shows not only how few people can find leisure to 
investigate, but how few venture to observe or think for 
themselves. Abernethy also experimented by holding 


his hand in carbonic acid, when he found that in about 
nine hours three, ounces, by measure, of carbonic acid 
were absorbed by the skin; and in the remaining gas, 
a considerable quantity of other gas which had been 
given off', which appeared to be nitrogen. 

Desirous of ascertaining the quantity of carbonic acid 
gas given off by his hand in different gases in a single 
hour, he. introduced his hand into various gases. In the 
experiment with 


Nitrous oxide, there came off 6 

Hydrogen 4 

Atmospheric air 3 

The test for the carbonic acid was, as before, in all 
cases, lime-water. He also found that the skin absorb- 
ed oxygen much more readily than most other gases. 
One remarkable experiment we will notice, to show 
how laborious all these investigations were, and for the 
interesting nature of the result. He placed his hand 
alternately in vessels containing each twenty-four 
ounces, by measure, of nitrogen and oxygen gases. 
After eight hours' exposure in each, two thirds of the 
oxygen had disappeared, whereas only one twentieth of 
the nitrogen was absorbed. Indeed, there is no one feat- 
ure of these experiments, perhaps, more interesting than 
those which suggest the stronger aptitude of the skin 
to absorb oxygen in comparison with other gases. For 
example, Abernethy found that the skin absorbed, by 

„, Ozs. 

Ut oxygen gas, in eight hours 8 

Of nitrous gas, in five hours 3 

Of hydrogen, in five hours i-j 

Of nitrogen, in eight hours 1 

Mr. Abernethy then made some experiments on his 


own lungs, after the manner that Mr. Cruikshank had 
done, to ascertain the quantity of water exhaled, by 
breathing into glass jars filled with and inverted in 
quicksilver, and by other methods, and also to ascertain 
the change produced in the air by respiration. These 
are all interesting, but we can only give general results, 
referring to the work itself as full of material for thought 
and future observation. He considered that, on the 
whole, the change in the air was, that in one hundred 
parts, consisting of 


Nitrogen 80 

Oxygen 18 

Carbonic acid 2 

that about three parts of oxygen were absorbed, while 
about twelve parts of carbonic acid were exhaled, the 
nitrogen being little altered, or even receiving some 
small addition. The quantity of inspired oxygen which 
disappeared varied in different experiments, probably 
depending on the depth of the inspiration, and the dura- 
tion between it and the following expiration — the time, 
in fact, during which it was retained in the lungs. The 
smallest quantity which disappeared was one twelfth, 
the largest one sixth. The moisture (water) exhaled 
he found to be about three drachms in an hour. 

These experiments, for the particulars of which we 
must refer to the book itself, contain a calculation of 
the extent of surface of the body, which he estimates 
at about two thousand seven hundred square inches, 
and about thirty-eight times that of the hand and wrist 
on which he experimented. Thus, if we multiply any 
of the results he obtained by thirty-eight, we shall ob- 
tain some idea of the prodigious power of this wonder- 
ful organ, and of the vast influence which its various 


conditions must exert on the whole animal economy. 
The whole of the experiments in the paper are just as 
interesting as ever, and would, we are well persuaded, 
be found amply to repay further investigation. 

They exemplify in every line his clearness of thought, 
ind his care in deducing no other conclusion from the 
premises than they logically justify. The observations 
svhich he has annexed to his paper also are just and 
of great practical value ; they discuss the bearing that 
the whole has to the relation which exists between the 
skin and lungs, and the influence of this on the causes 
of that fell destroyer, popularly known under the title 
of Consumption. 

They are a portion of that investigation of relation 
between various organs on which any thing like the 
formation of a definite and practical science must ulti- 
mately depend. We shall endeavor in the sequel to 
explain the ulterior consequences which necessarily 
arise out of such considerations, when they are duly 
followed out. We shall endeavor to point out the 
share they had, in conjunction with other considera- 
tions, in leading to those beautiful and simple princi- 
ples which Mr. Abernethy was led more especially to 
advocate; and show how far he went, as describing 
the starting-point of those who have endeavored at a 
fuller development of the consequences of his views. 

He remarks justly enough on the determination to 
the lungs consequent on the repression of the surface, 
and the necessary additional duty thrown on these 
important organs, engaged in a common function with 
the skin, where the duty of the latter is not perform- 
ed ; and on the elements thus supplied for disease, 
especially in persons of restricted chest — relations, 


be it remembered, which exist between the various 
other organs of the economy, and which exemplify in 
a single case truly what has been, we trust, since 
shown in regard to organs generally ; how the organ, 
which may be the seat of the disease, may not be the 
seat of the original cause, but really a secondarily af- 
fected organ, a hint which, when followed out, is of 
immense practical importance. 

The skin is by no means the only organ which has 
a community of function with the lungs, or through 
which these important parts become affected ; but if 
this be so, and diseases of the lungs be treated as an 
integral thing, it requires no great penetration to see 
how diseases so handled may be incurable, since the 
real cause may never be ministered to. 

Again, if a case should be successfully treated by 
means which afford all possible relief to the lungs, 
while the primarily affected organ is also properly 
treated, it by no means follows that the treatment 
should be the same in every case; for the primarily 
affected organ may be different in different cases. 
There is, in fact, no organ in the body which, when 
subjected to disordering influences, may not seconda- 
rily affect the lungs. 

The liver is especially apt to affect them. It is en- 
gaged, like the lungs, in throwing off large quantities 
of carbon or charcoal from the system, and has been 
not very improperly termed the " abdominal lung." It 
is constantly, also, sending through the medium of the 
heart a large quantity of blood to the lungs. Now, if 
this blood have not the proper quantity of carbon ex- 
tracted from it by the liver, or if even the blood be ex- 
cessive in quantity, why, the lungs must have more to 


do ; and many diseased lungs have been produced in 
this manner in cases where the chest has been well 

There are, however, may intimate relations between 
organs which do not depend on mere community of 
function. It is very important that the public should 
have clear views on this subject; and if they would 
only give a little of that attention which they so often 
bestow on things infinitely more difficult, there is no 
doubt many lives would be saved that are irremedi- 
ably damaged, as Abernethy says, sometimes even be- 
fore any symptoms have suggested that there is any 
thing the matter. 

But if there be a shadow of truth in Mr. Abernethy's 
views, and still more in those extensions of them to 
which they naturally lead, we may learn how neces- 
sary is that discrimination which traces disease to pri- 
marily affected organs, and how little success we may 
expect by treating the lungs as the integral seat of dis- 
ease, by specifics or such remedies as tar, naphtha, cod- 
liver-oil, various gases, &c, which come in and go out 
of fashion in a manner sufficiently significant of the 
claims they can have in a scientific point of view. 

Mr. Abernethy also remarks on the comparatively 
restricted influence of scrofula in constituting consump- 
tion. "At one time," he observes, " I examined the 
bodies of many people who died of consumption." 
After describing other appearances which he found, he 
says, "the greater number were bestudded with lar- 
ger or smaller tubercles, or made uniformly dense (con- 
solidated)." He says, this disease (consolidation) is 
very insidious — that it is often established beyond the 
possibility of removal before it is suspected ; but, he 


says, he thinks it might be known, for the capacity of 
the lungs is diminished ; and suggests that this should 
be tested by allowing a suspected case to breathe into 
a glass vessel over water, by which the quantity of 
air they can receive is rendered perceptible. 

His remarks, too, on the treatment are highly inter- 
esting and discriminative, and will not only well re- 
pay attentive perusal, but that study which is necessary 
to the perception of their full force and beauty. When 
we have to sum up the various influences of the views 
of Abernethy, we may probable find space for a few 
facts on that which they exert on the treatment of the 
lungs and skin ; and this not merely as affecting the 
health in general, but also complexion, and other con- 
ditions of these curious and important organs. 

We are unwilling to dismiss this paper without di- 
recting attention to the illustration it affords of the er- 
roneous views of those who imagine that Abernethy's 
investigations were confined to the digestive organs, 
and still less, of course, to one of them (the stomach). 
It would, on the contrary, be difficult to find any pa- 
per on physiology so comprehensive in its views, so 
simple and clear as to its objects, so cautious and log- 
ical in its reasonings, so free from any bias, or with so 
little reference, either directly or indirectly, to what are 
usually understood by the digestive organs. On the 
other hand, it is an investigation which (as regards 
the relation which exists between two organs having a 
common function) is an exact type of what physiolog- 
ical investigation should be ; for we have only to ex- 
tend the idea of a relation which exists between two 
organs to those which exist between all organs ; to 
regard as their combined functions the sustentation of 


the life and health of the individual, just as we have 
been regarding respiration the common function of the 
skin and lungs ; and we thus arrive at what must be 
the basis of any sound or comprehensive inquiry into 
the true relations of the various parts of the economy, 
by which alone we can interpret the phenomena of 
health or disease. 

Moreover, however presumptuous the assertion may 
appear on the one hand, or however humiliating the 
view it implies of the present state of medicine as a 
science on the other, we must regard this investigation 
in every philosophical sense of the term as still among 
the " means untried'' of the illustrious author whose 
words we have ventured to place at the head of this 



" Quis talia fando 
Temperet a lachrymis." — Virgil. 

Perhaps of all known torments, there is none that 
can be compared, either in intensity or duration, with 
that curious disease which has been called Tic Doulou- 
reux. Like the term Neuralgia, it is merely a hard 
word to express a violent pain in a nerve. Conven- 
tionally, the term neuralgia, or nerve-pain, is general- 
ly used to express a case where the suffering is of a 
more or less diffused character. The term " tic" is 
more usually applied in cases where the seat of pain 
is found in some superficial nerve. Neither term has 
much claim to the character of scientific nomenclature ; 


they are merely equivalent to saying that we know 
very little of the matter. This obscurity, however, 
may be soon lessened, if not entirely cleared, by any 
one who will gu to work in the way suggested by Mr. 
Abernethy's principles, and in which, to a certain point, 
they will conduct him. He must, however, recollect 
that the pain, though a most distressing symptom, is 
still a symptom, and not the disease which gives rise 
to it. 

This disease teaches us how beneficently framed we 
are in relation to all around us, and how small a de- 
viation from a healthy condition of our sensations con- 
verts all usual sources of pleasure into so many ele- 
ments of agony. The breeze, of late so grateful and 
refreshing, may produce more suffering than would be 
excited by the most intensely-heated furnace. In oth- 
er cases, the cool spring, or the most delicious fruit, 
become causes of torture. We should exceed all rea- 
sonable limits if we were to enumerate all the usual 
sources of pleasure which, in different cases, are con- 
verted into so many instruments of suffering. 

Tic douloureux is indeed a horrible malady, but one 
which, when properly considered, becomes very in- 
structive. It admirably illustrates the views of Aber- 
nethy, and how ready he was to concede all that ex- 
amination of the vi#ws of others which modesty and 
common sense requires, as well as how superior his 
own were both in philosophical acumen and practical 
value; first examining the views of others, and finding 
them defective, he, with the true philosophical spirit 
which first discovers what is wrong — 

" Primus gradus est sapiential falsa intelligere," 
then prooeeds to develop his own. 


The nerves are the organs from which we receive 
impressions from without, and when their ordinary 
sensibility is thus morbidly augmented, we may be per- 
suaded that there is something very wrong within. 

The tic douloureux is one of the examples showing 
how cautious and circumspect, and how modest with- 
al, Abernethy was in advancing to his own compre- 
hensive views of disease, and how entirely antithetical 
the method he pursued in arriving at them was to that 
which attempts to cut the knot of difficulty by gratui- 
tous hypotheses. 

When this disease first began to attract attention, it 
was suggested that it might be cured by the division 
of the nerve. The phenomena of the nervous system 
afforded abundant grounds for mistrusting the sound- 
ness of this view. The tendency, however, to confound 
the more salient symptom of a disease with its intrin- 
sic nature, caused such phenomena to be overlooked 
or little considered ; and the consequence was, that 
where the nerve was divided, the treatment was some- 
times entirely confined to that proceeding. 

In the end, the operation disappointed expectation; 
and that which careful reasoning might have predict- 
ed as probable, was left to be determined by experi- 
ment. In some cases circumstances concurred to pro- 
duce temporary relief, but, on the whole, the operation 
was a failure. 

In the case he here published, Abernethy removed 
a little bit of nerve from a lady's finger. As she had 
suffered severely, and he was anxious to give her more 
permanent relief, he did not rest with merely dividing 
the nerve. For about nine months the lady was in 
comparative ease, but then the sensation returned. He 


remarks on the interest attached to this return of sen- 
sation, and observed on the analogy it suggests between 
the supply of blood and nervous power ; for if the ves- 
sels conveying the former be tied or obstructed, the 
supply is gradually restored through collateral chan- 
nels. The return of the nervous functions after the 
removal of a portion of the nerve seemed to favor that 
view of the nervous system which regarded as the prox- 
imate cause of the phenomena some subtle principle or 
other, like electricity or magnetism, or some analogous 
power of which the nerves might be the conductors. 

Perhaps the most interesting fact of this case, how- 
ever, was the significant bearing it had on those views 
which he was beginning to deduce from a multitude 
of other sources — the fact being that, when the lady 
died, which she did about four years afterward, she 
died of disordered digestive organs; showing therefore, 
at least, the coincidence of the most severe form of 
nervous disturbance with disorder of these important 

"We shall see by-and-by that Mr. Abernethy made 
this and other cases the instruments of much future 
good ; but as we shall not be able to digress from that 
Summary of our obligations which we shall then be 
employed in taking, we will add a few words here in 
aid of removing that difficulty which some people have 
in understanding how such dreadful pain can result 
from any organ in the interior of the body, where no 
pain is felt at all. In order to this, it is only neces- 
sary to have a clear general notion of the nervous sys- 
tem. If you could take away every thing but the 
nerves, you would have the brain, spinal marrow, and 
certain knot-like pieces of nervous substance (gangli- 


ons, as we term them) from which myriads of cords 
proceeded, varying in size from the smallest imagina- 
ble filaments up to moderate sized cords; the ends of 
the delicate filaments terminating in the various or- 
gans and on the surface of the body; millions of mes- 
sengers of the most extreme sensibility, by which im- 
pressions are telegraphed with the swiftness of light- 
ning between all parts of the body. There is, however, 
a habit or rule which is ordinarily observed, and that 
is one of the most curious things in the whole range 
of physiology — namely, that the immediate cause of 
our recognition of sensation is never in the part itself, 
but the action is constantly transferred to the extrem- 
ity of the nerve. When you strike the ulnar nerve at 
the elbow (popularly termed, sometimes, the funny- 
bone), you feel it in the finger to which its branches 
are distributed. 

If you place your finger in cold or warm water, the 
action that makes you feel it is in the brain; and we 
infer this, because if we divide the communication be- 
tween the brain and the finger, you no longer feel the 
sensation. Now, bearing this in mind, you easily un- 
derstand how any thing disturbing the nerves of any 
internal organ may produce pain in some distant 
branch; and that this is really so, many cases of tic 
douloureux have furnished conclusive and triumphant 
proofs. Now as to ivhy it should be seated in this or 
that particular site is a question of extreme difficulty, 
as also in what organ the primary disturbance is seat- 
ed, supposing it to have been in any of them. The 
former, I believe, is a question we have yet been un- 
able to solve ; the latter may usually be accomplished, 
if sufficient pains be taken. 


Abernethy, in his lectures on this subject, when ob- 
serving on the inefficiency of this division of the nerve, 
which was ministering to effects only, was accustomed 
to remark, with that peculiar archness of expression 
which his pupils must so well remember. " I wonder 
that it never entered into the head of some wise booby 
or other to divide the nerve going to a gouty man's 
toe." This was a very characteristic mode of term- 
inating a discussion of any point which he wished to 
impress on the memory of the pupil. 



In these days of improved statistical inquiry, it 
would be a very curious document which should give 
us the comparative number of persons who are now 
bled, and that of only fifty years ago; and while it 
would present very instructive data as to the progress 
of medical science, it would give also some significant 
hints as to the relations of fashionable remedies. First, 
almost every barber was a bleeder; and within my 
own recollection, a lady, who for any serious ailment 
consulted the most eminent physician in the neighbor- 
hood in which she lived, would allow no one to bleed 
her but the barber. 

The multitude of people lost a little blood every 
"spring and fall." Accidents of all kinds afforded a 
fine opportunity for bleeding. The papers announced 
accidents generally by the usual " It is with regret that 

we learn that Sir Harry was thrown from his 

horse in the Park. It was feared that the honorable 
Baronet had sustained serious injury; but, fortunately, 
Mr. Sharpe was on the spot, so that the patient was 



immediately bled. He was conveyed home, and we 
rejoice to hear that he is doing well. The accident, 
which it had been feared was a fracture, proved to 
be only a 'dislocation.'" 

The questions in regard to bleeding were said to be 
who, when, and how much (quis, quando, quantum?) ; 
but, to our minds, Aretseus has a better saying : "When 
bleeding is required, there is need of deliberation \cum 
sanguihem detrahere oportet, deliberations indiget)." 
We like this better, because, in addition to the little 
words quoted above, it suggests another more import- 
ant than either — namely, cur? why? — on many oc- 
casions, a favorite inquiry of Abernethy's. 

We recollect a surgeon being called to a gentleman 
who was taken ill suddenly, and he found two or three 
servants and the medical attendant struggling very 
vigorously with the patient. While this was continu- 
ing, the first question put to the surgeon by the medi- 
cal attendant was, 

"Shall I bleed him, Sir?" 

"Why should you desire to bleed him ?" 

"Oh! exactly; you prefer cupping ?" 

" Why should he be cupped ?" 

"Then shall I apply some leeches?" 

This, too, was declined ; in short, it never seemed 
to have occurred that neither might be necessary, still 
less that either might therefore do mischief. 

It is the most curious thing to see the force of a 
well-grown conventionalism. As long as it led to 
moderately bleeding plethoric baronets in recent acci- 
dents, no great harm would have been done; but the 
frequency in other cases, in which bleeding was insti- 
tuted with " apparent impunity," was too commonly 


construed into "bleeding with advantage," until the 
practice became so indiscriminate as to be very extens- 
ively injurious. Now, comparatively, few persons are 
bled ; and some years few ago I had a curious illustra- 
tion of it. 

In a large institution, relieving several thousand 
patients annually, and in which, a very few years be- 
fore, scarcely a day passed without several persons 
having been bled, nearly a month elapsed without a 
single bleeding having been prescribed by either of the 
three medical officers. 

No doubt many persons are still bled without any 
very satisfactory reason, but we believe that the abuse 
of bleeding is very much diminished, and that the 
practice is much more discriminate and judicious. 
From this, and perhaps other causes, a very important 
class of cases which engaged the attention of Aber- 
nethy, as it had that of Hunter before him, is become 
comparatively infrequent. But when bleeding was 
practiced with as little idea of its importance as some 
other of the barber-surgeon's ministrations, on all sorts 
of people, and in all sorts of disturbed states of health, 
and probably with no attention at all to the principles 
which should alike guide the treatment of the largest 
or the smallest wound, bleeding was very frequently 
followed by inflammation of the vein, nerve, or other 
contiguous structures. These cases were most of 
them more or less serious, often dangerous, and occa- 
sionally fatal. 

Taking up the subject where it had been left by Mr. 
Hunter, Abernethy refers to the cases published in the 
two volumes of the " Medical Communications" by Mr. 
Colly, of Torrington, and by Mr. Wilson, and then pro- 


ceeds to give some of his own. It is in this paper that 
he first moots two questions which have since grown 
into some importance by an extension of some of the 
practices to which they refer. "We allude to the divi- 
sion of fasciee and tendinous structures, and also of 
nerves in states of disease or disorder. 

In many cases we see, in the application of such 
measures, how much that clear and quick-sighted dis- 
crimination is required which so eminently distinguish- 
ed Abernethy. He, however, only mooted these ques- 
tions at that time, for he observes that he had not suf- 
ficient experience to give an opinion. The chief value 
of the paper now is the good sense with which it incul- 
cates a more careful and cleanly performance of bleed- 
ing; a more scientific treatment of the puncture, by 
neatly bringing its edges into apposition, and by keep- 
ing the arm quiet until it has healed. Neglect of these 
cautions in disordered states of constitution had no doubt 
been not infrequently accessory to the production of 
some of the serious consequences against which it is 
the object of this paper to guard. I need scarcely ob- 
serve that the whole subject is important, and should 
be thoroughly studied by the young surgeon. 

In 1793, Abernethy, by his writings and his lectures, 
seems to have created a general impression that he was 
a man of no ordinary talent. His papers on Animal 
Matter, and, still more, his Essay on the Functions of 
the Skin and Lungs, had shown that he was no longer 
to be regarded merely in the light of a rising surgeon, 
but as one laying claim to the additional distinction of 
a philosophical physiologist. The subject (of the skin 
and lungs) had engaged the attention of Boerhaave a 
long time before ; Cruikshank also, and other very able 


men, had followed in the same wake of investigation ; 
therefore there was an opportunity of that test which 
comparison alone affords. Abernethy was, in fact, re- 
garded at this time more in the light of a rising man 
than merely a promising surgeon. He now moved from 
St. Mary Axe (as I am informed), and took a house in 
St. Mildred's Court, in the Poultry. 

Sir Charles Blicke had moved to Billiter Square. I 
find hy the rate-books, which Mr. R. L. Jones was so 
good as to inspect for me, that this was in April, 1793. 
He could hardly fail at this time to have had a very 
acceptable portion of practice, although we apprehend 
it was not as yet extensive. His reputation was, how- 
ever, fast, increasing, which the attention paid to his 
opinion at the hospital at this time must have materi- 
ally accelerated. 

Certainly not later than 1795, there were very few 
cases of doubt or difficulty in which, independently of 
that participation in the consultation at the hospital 
common to all the medical officers, there was not es- 
pecial value and influence attached to his opinion; and 
I have heard a pupil of that day assert, that in cases of 
real doubt and difficulty, there was nothing more beau- 
tiful in itself, nor more characteristic of Abernethy, than 
the masterly way in which he would analyze a case, 
bring the practical points before his colleagues, and at 
the same time suggest the course he preferred. As 
from his other occupations it would often happen that 
some consultation might be pending while he was en- 
gaged at the theatre or in the museum, it would often 
happen that a consultation would terminate for the 
time by some one observing, "Well, we will see what 
Mr. Abernethy says on the subject." 


In 1796 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, 
his old preceptor, Sir William Blizard, being one of 
those who signed the proposal for his election. He 
only contributed one paper after this to the "Philosoph- 
ical Transactions." After his death the Duke of Sus- 
sex pronounced a very well-deserved eulogium, of which 
a copy will he found in a subsequent chapter. He had 
not been idle, however, but in 1797 published the third 
part of the "Physiological Essays," and which we will, 
in the next place, consider. 



" Utiliuinque sagax rerum." — Hor. 

In estimating the practical penetration and clear 
judgment of Abernethy, it, was almost necessary to see 
him placed by the side of other men. 

His mind was so quick at perceiving the difficulties 
which lay around any subject, that it appeared to ra- 
diate on the most difficult a luminosity that made it 
comparatively easy, by at least, putting that which, to 
ordinary minds, might have been a confused puzzle, 
into the shape of an easy, definite, and intelligible prop- 

It was immaterial whether the difficulties were such 
as eould be overcome, or whether they were in part 
insurmountable; both were clearly placed before you; 
and while the work of thu quickest mind was facili- 
tated, the slowest had the great assistance of seeing 
clearly what it had to do. 

All this was done by Abernethy in a manner so lit- 


tie suggestive of effort, that, like his lecturing, it was 
so apparently easy, that one wondered how it happened 
that nobody could ever do it so well. 

But when we saw him placed in juxtaposition with 
other men, these peculiarities, which, from the easy 
manner in which they were exhibited, we had perhaps 
estimated but lightly, were thrown into high relief, 
and by contrast showed the superiority of his powers. 

The second series of Essays he had dedicated to his 
old master, Sir Charles Blicke. The third, the subject 
of our present consideration, he inscribed to his early 
instructor in anatomy, Sir W. Blizard. The dedica- 
tion is straightforward and grateful. 

The first paper of the series is interesting in two 
points of view. First, it was an important improve- 
ment in the management of a difficult form of a very 
serious class of accident, " Injuries of the Head ;" and, 
secondly, it derives a peculiar interest from the parallel- 
ism it suggests between Abernethy and one of the most 
distinguished surgeons of France, the celebrated Pierre 
Joseph Dessault — a parallelism honorable to both, yet 
remarkably instructive as to the superior discriminative 
powers of Abernethy. Dessault's pupil, Bichat, him- 
self one of the most accomplished anatomists of his 
time, has left an eloquent eulogium on Dessault, which, 
although somewhat florid, is by no means above his 
merits. He says he was the father of Surgical Anatomy 
in France ; and certainly few men evinced more sa- 
gacity in that immediate application of a fact to prac- 
tical purposes, which constitutes art, than Dessault. 

Bichat, in his glowing analysis of Dessault's charac- 
ter, among other things in relation to his study of the 
profession, observes of him that, " Un esprit profond 


et reflechi, ardent a entreprendre, opiniatre a continuer, 
le disposa de bonne heure a surmonter des degouts qui 
precedent, et les difficultes qui accompagnent son etude. 
A cet age ou Tame encore fermee a la reflexion semble 
ne s'ouvrir qn'au plakir, apprendre fut son premier 
besoin — savoir sa premiere jouissance — devancer les 
autres sa premiere passion."* 

A quick and clear perception, for the most part un- 
trammeled by preconceived opinions, led Default to a 
vivid appreciation of the immediate results of surgical 
proceedings ; and as these were definite, successful, 
doubtful, or abortive, he either persevered with a char- 
acteristic tenacity of purpose, or at once and forever 
abandoned them. He was remarkably happy in his 
selection and appreciation of the mechanical parts of 
surgery, and his quick perception disclosed to him sev- 
eral useful points in practice which depend on the more 
important truths of medical surgery. 

Now almost all this, as applied to the active portion 
of Abernethy's life, is equally true of both. But Des- 
sault was by no means so deep or so original a thinker 
as Abernethy. Like Abernethy, he was clear and pen- 
etrative, but he did not see nearly so far, nor were his 
views nearly as comprehensive. Dessault was quick 
at detecting an error in practice, and in sensibly reject- 
ing it. Abernethy would unfold it, examine it, and 
by his talents convert the very defect into usefulness. 
Dessault had by no means, in the same degree, that 
power of reflection, that suggestive faculty which, in 
endeavoring to interpret the meaning of phenomena, 
can point out the true question which it is desired to 
ask of nature, as well as the mode of inquiry. 
* Bichat, Eloge de Dessault. CEuvres. 


All this and much more was strikingly developed in 
Abernethy. The paper before us involves a subject 
which had engaged the attention both of Abernethy 
and Dessault. They had met with the same diffi- 
culty ; and the practical solution of it which each ob- 
tained, though somewhat different, was extremely char- 
acteristic. We will try to make this intelligible. In 
severe injuries in which the cranium is broken, it fre- 
quently happens that a portion of bone is so displaced 
that it presses on the brain. The consequence of this, 
in many cases, is a train of symptoms sufficiently 
alarming in themselves, but the actual cause of which 
many circumstances sometimes concur to complicate 
or obscure. 

The same forces which produced the accident not 
unfrequently involve a violent shock to the whole 
body — sometimes fracture or other injury of other 
parts. Sometimes the patient is deeply intoxicated. 
Then, again, patients are presented to the surgeon in 
different cases at extremely different periods after the 
reception of the injury, so that the case is very differ- 
ent as you see it first at one or other phase of it. 

These, and many other circumstances, give rise to 
various modifications of the symptoms, and, under some 
complications., constitute a class of cases which yield 
to none in importance or difficulty. There is some- 
thing in the idea of a piece of bone pressing on the 
brain, which instinctively suggests the expediency of 
raising it to the natural level. This is, in fact, the ob- 
ject of what is called "trepanning," or, as we gener- 
ally term it, "trephining." 

This consists in nothing less than perforating the 
cranium, and then, by means of an instrument adapt- 

E 2 


ed for that purpose, restoring the piece of bone which 
has been depressed to its natural level. In many in- 
stances the operation was very successful, but in many 
others the cases terminated unfavorably. From what 
has been already hinted, it is clear that in many in- 
juries of the head this operation must have been un- 
necessary, in others inapplicable, and in both (as add- 
ing to the injury) mischievous. Still surgeons went 
on trephining, so that, in a large class of injuries of 
the head, there was, if the bone was depressed, an al- 
most uniform recourse to the trephine. 

Again, in cases where it did not immediately ap- 
pear that the bone was depressed, too often very un- 
necessary explorative operations were undertaken to 
determine that, circumstance. In short, there was too 
much of analogy between the same matter-of-course 
adoption of the trephine in severe injuries of the cra- 
nium which we have noticed in regard to bleeding in 
more ordinary accidents. 

For correcting the abuse of this very serious opera- 
tion, we are under great obligations to Abernethy and 
Dessault, and we couple these illustrious names to- 
gether on this occasion, because, although the amount 
of our obligation to Abernethy is much the greater, we 
would not willingly omit the justice due to Dessault. 

Dessault may have been said to have given that first 
blow which so often determines the ultimate fate of a 
mischievous conventionalism — that blow which com- 
pels the consideration of its claims on our common 

Dessault had become extremely disgusted with the 
results of the operation of the trephine in his hands at 
the Hotel Dieu, and on consideration, although, as it 


would seem, from Bichat's edition of his works, that 
he did not in theory absolutely ignore the occasional 
propriety of the operation, he practically forever aban- 
doned it, thus at once cutting the knot he felt it diffi- 
cult or impracticable to unravel. As this was many 
years before his death, the principal argument on which 
he supported the relinquishment of the operation was 
simply that his success in the treatment of injuries of 
the head had been much greater since he had alto- 
gether laid it aside. 

This is eminently characteristic of what people call 
"a practical man," but, after all, it is not very sound 
reasoning. Now here it was that the discriminative 
excellence of Abernethy began to tell. 

In the first place, he observed that the raising of the 
bone could only be necessary ivhere it produced symp- 
toms. He also observed that experience had recorded 
certain cases in which, notwithstanding that the bone 
had been depressed, the patients had recovered with- 
out any operation. Then, again, he thought it not im- 
probable that where the depression was slight, even 
though some symptoms might at first arise, yet if we 
were not too precipitate, we might find that they would 
again subside, and thus so serious an operation be ren- 
dered unnecessary. These and similar reasonings led 
him to recommend a more cautious practice, and to re- 
frain from trephining even where the bone was de- 
pressed, except on conditions which referred to the 
general effects of pressure on the brain rather than to 
the abstract fact of depression of the bone. 

He did not stop here; but having thus placed re- 
strictions on the use of the trephine where it had been 
too indiscriminately employed, he then describes the 


practice which is to be pursued where the pressure is 
produced from effusion on the brain. 

Although, in laying down the rules to be observed 
in such cases, there is much of painful uncertainty as 
to the existence of effused blood, the site it may occu- 
py, and other circumstances of embarrassment, still the 
rules he proposes in relation to the avoidance of large 
vessels, the condition of the bone as indicative of the 
actual state of the parts beneath it, &c, are all clearly 
and beautifully stated as deducible from the anatom- 
ical and vascular relations of the parts. The result of 
all this discrimination is, that the trephine is seldom 
employed, while the treatment of the various injuries 
of the head is much more successfully conducted. 

He next proceeds to consider the distinction between 
those cases in which the brain has been shaken mere- 
ly (concussion), and those where it has been subjected 
to mechanical pressure. There are two points in this 
part of the paper of great interest to the practical sur- 
geon : the one, in which he treats of the distinction of 
the two cases; the other, in which he marshals the 
discordant practices of different surgeons in cases of 
concussion, and defines the proper phase of the case 
in which we may make thern respectively applicable 
— when, for example, we may by warmth maintain, 
or even by cautious stimulation excite, the depressed 
powers; or, by judicious abstinence from either, avoid 
provoking too violent reaction ; and, lastly, how we 
should combat the latter if it unfortunately supervene. 
His Remarks on the Assistance to be derived from 
consideration of the Phenomena of Apoplexy, his refer- 
ence to the cases which had occurred in the practice 
of other surgeons, and the observations he makes on 


the lamentable omission of facts in the record of cases, 
are all worthy of profound attention. Equally excel- 
lent is the ingenuity with which he attempts the dis- 
tinction between the cases of concussion and compres- 
sion of the brain. His endeavor to discriminate the 
cases in which the effusion, or inflammatory action re- 
spectively, affect one or other membrane, is also ex- 
tremely sagacious and characteristic. Whether we 
consider all or any of these features in the paper be- 
fore us, or, lastly, that triumph of science and hu- 
manity with which he has so defined the limits of a 
dangerous operation as to have achieved a compara- 
tive abandonment of it, we think most surgeons will 
be inclined to regard this essay as one of his hap- 
piest contributions to the improvement of practical 

In 1804 he added some cases in illustration of the 
views unfolded in this paper, and one case which ap- 
peared to be exceptional with what he considered to 
be its appropriate explanation. He also gives an in- 
teresting case of a suicide, in whom he had tied the 
carotid artery, in which the operation was followed by 
an inflammatory state of the brain. Here, again, his 
quick perception suggested to him the significant idea 
that similar states of brain might result from different 
and even opposite states of the circulation; a conclu- 
sion now, I believe, well established, one of great prac- 
tical importance, and one for which, so far as I know, 
we are greatly indebted to the observations of "Dr. 
Marshall Hall on Blood-letting." In this case, Aber- 
nethy eulogizes the plan recommended by Dessault, of 
feeding a patient by a tube introduced through the left 
nostril. In concluding this remarkable paper, which 


shows how much a great mind may extract from com- 
mon subjects, 

" Tantum de medio sumptis accedit honoris," 
we quote one remark which impresses the importance 
of a requisition, the essential basis of all scientific in- 
quiries — namely, a careful collection of facts. 

"In proportion as we advance in knowledge," says 
Mr. Abernethy, "we are led to record many circum- 
stances in the progress of the disorder which had be- 
fore passed without notice, but which, if known and 
duly attended to, would clearly point out to us the na- 
ture and remedy of the complaint. Hence the records 
of former cases are of much less value, as the symp- 
toms about which we are now anxious to inquire have 
in them been entirely overlooked." 


abernethy's experiments on the muscles in frogs, &c. 

" There are more things in heaven and earth than 
are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio," is a senti- 
ment which, in some form or other, occurs to the most 
uninformed peasant and to the most profound philoso- 

The very small difference between the acquisitions 
of the two, however marvelous when viewed abstract- 
edly, sinks into nothing when compared to the secrets 
of nature which yet remain unexplored. This com- 
parison is the true source of that humility which, 
while it adds dignity to the acquirements of intellect, 
is the foundation on which we may most securely rest 
the hope of increasing possessions. 


The intellectual vision of the wisest man confines 
him to a very small area when compared with the 
boundless realms of nature. There are, indeed, a 
number of objects within the range of his perceptions 
whose 'nature and relations he has the power of exam- 
ining, but there are also a multitude of others which, 
from their dimly-sketched outline, he feels to be beyond 
the bounds assigned to his limited faculties. 

One of the most curious things in animals is the 
rigidity or stiffness of their muscles after death. It is 
the, last effort, as it were, of the living principle. This 
phenomenon may be indefinitely modified by particu- 
lar states, by lightning, by poison, and other peculiar 
conditions, induced by the manner and the period at 
which the death may have occurred ; and in all cases 
it continues but for a short time. It is the last exer- 
cise of that power which resides in muscles or flesh, 
of contracting, and thus moving the various parts to 
which it is attached. In a very large sense this power 
is under the dominion of the will, and enables animals 
to move as their instincts or their wants suggest. 

Now it is a curious thing to think that this power 
can be excited after death by placing the part between 
two pieces of metal, or galvanizing them, as it is call- 
ed, after the name of the discoverer, Gralvani. 

It is difficult at this day to imagine the astonish- 
ment of the wife of Gralvani, or his pupil, when first 
they observed the leg of a dead frog thrown into con- 
vulsions on being touched by a piece of metal ; such, 
however, was the apparently simple origin of a long 
series of wonderful discoveries. It has been well ob- 
observed, however, that "discoveries, apparently the re- 
sult of accident, always imply the exercise of profound 


thought ;" and this was no less the case in respect to 
galvanism. A fact which, but for the mention of it to 
G-alvani by his wife, might have passed unobserved, 
was, by the scarcely less than creative power of mind, 
improved into a most important branch of human sci- 

Ignorant as men still remain of the intrinsic nature 
of the principle or power which gives rise to the phe- 
nomenon, the observation and study of its laws and op- 
erations have led to discoveries which, in their value, 
their importance, and their surprising character, yield 
to no other yet achieved. 

Abernethy, who at this laborious period of his life 
had his observation directed every where, made some 
experiments on this power — galvanism — in its relations 
to the muscles of frogs. 

His object seems to have been as follows : Fontana 
(a celebrated physiologist, born in the Tyrol about 
1734) had showed that a muscle which could no lon- 
ger be excited to contract under water, might be ex- 
cited anew if taken out of the water and exposed for 
some time to air. This observation had suggested the 
idea that air was in some way or other conducive to 
this " irritability," as it was termed. Dr. Grirtanner 
had also endeavored to prove that the irritability de- 
pended on the oxygen taken into the blood during res- 
piration, and that the irritability was in a direct ratio 
to the quantity of oxygen respired, "an opinion which 
some writers in this country seem disposed to adopt." 

Abernethy doubted the soundness of such a view, 
and he accordingly instituted some experiments, in the 
hope that, if he could not absolutely determine the 
question, he might throw some light on it. His exper- 


iments were very numerous, but he published only a 
few of them. We will give one or two. " Having' 
killed a frog (for he properly objected to experiments 
on living animals), he experimented on the muscles of 
two legs ; one was put into a bottle containing oxygen 
gafs procured from manganese, and which was very 
pure ; the other into a bottle containing atmospheric 
air ; the cmantity in each bottle was about six ounces 
by measure; the limbs were supported in the. airs, and 
wholly surrounded by them. After five hours the mus- 
cles had nearly ceased to act in both limbs ; those, 
however, of the thigh belonging to that limb inclosed 
in the common air acting more vividly than the oth- 
ers, but in a little time even these could no longer be 
excited. Upon comparing the limbs afterward, the 
muscles of that which had been exposed to the oxygen 
gas were evidently the most flabby. Several other tri- 
als were made with a similar result ;" whence he ob- 
serves, "I am disposed to conclude that oxygenous gas 
has no greater power of supporting the irritability of 
parts separated from the animal than the common at- 

In some of his experiments the limbs continued to 
be excitable after eighteen hours, but with little differ- 
ence in the two gases. 

He next made several experiments by placing the 
limbs of frogs in nitrogen and hydrogon ; the limbs in 
nitrogen lost their irritability in about two hours and 
a half, those in hydrogen in about four hours. 

Experiments then follow which consisted in placing 
limbs in carbonic acid and nitrous gases respectively, 
both of which ceased to act in an hour and a half. 

He also placed limbs in carbureted hydrogen, and 


found that they ceased to act in one hour and a half. 
In other experiments he found the correctness of Fon- 
tana's results — that limbs placed under water, and 
which had lost their irritability, had for a time recov- 
ered it by exposure to air and moisture. 

Perhaps the most interesting of the whole series are 
thuse in which he compared the results obtained in 
vacuo and atmospheric air. He says, " I put one pre- 
pared limb of a frog under the exhausted receiver of 
an air-pump ; it lay on a plate of glass, supported by a 
cup; zinc was placed beneath the thigh, and gold un- 
der the leg; and by means of a probe passing through 
a collar of leather, I could touch both metals, so as to 
excite the muscles to contraction. This I did occa- 
sionally, and found the limb capable of excitement for 
twenty-two hours. The corresponding limb, which 
was left exposed to the atmosphere, also contracted at 
the end of that time, so that it was doubtful which of 
them retained their powers in the greater degree. The 
same experiment was repeated several times with re- 
sults so nearly alike that I am inclined to believe ir- 
ritability continues very little longer in common air 
than it does in the exhausted receiver of an air-pump. 

"I have frequently produced numerous contractions 
in the limbs of frogs inclosed in azotic, hydrogenous, 
and other gases, which likewise tend to show that the 
cause of irritability does not depend on oxygen for its 
power of action." 

He then remarks that, notwithstanding the great im- 
portance of oxygen, he thinks it has been overrated, for 
says he, " Different tribes of animals partake of it in 
different degrees, and those who have the least of it are 
far from being the least vivacious." 


He here reasons on premises which were then uni- 
versally admitted, and which form at present a portion 
of many very questionable impressions in relation to 

We mention one, "that fish, frogs, &c, breathe less 
oxygen than warm-blooded animals." But while in 
respect to the frog, there are many conditions relating 
to the skin to be considered before we can admit this 
position, we hold it to be demonstrable that fish breathe 
more oxygen than most other animals — due attention 
not having been paid to the enormous proportion of 
oxygen in the air found in water — being, in fact, about 
one third. In his concluding remarks he says, that as 
regards nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbonic acid, it only 
shows what we knew before, that they are injurious to 
life, and that oxygen is not more beneficial than com- 
mon air. The experiments "showing the long contin- 
uance of life and action in muscles in an exhausted re- 
ceiver he considers worthy of notice, as tending to show 
that the cause of irritability in muscles, when once 
formed, does not require the assistance of external 

Lastly, he gives an experiment on the blood (which 
shows how he was working in every direction), in aid 
of ihe opinion that the blood derives its scarlet color 
from the action of oxygen. "I took the coagulum of 
venous blood left in a basin after bleeding, and, turn- 
ing it bottom upward, waited till its surface had be- 
come of a scarlet color. I then took slices of this sur- 
face, and similar slices of the interior part of the coag- 
ulum, which had a very dark appearance, and exposed 
them repeatedly to azotic and nitrous gases. The scar- 
let color gradually faded upon such exposure; and the 


azotic gas being afterward examined, was found to con- 
tain oxygen, while nitrous gas was much diminished, 
doubtless by combining with the same principle. The 
gases to which the dark-colored blood was exposed 
underwent no change in this experiment. That blood 
takes oxygen from the air when it becomes florid, will 
not, I suppose, be denied, and the experiment I have 
related shows that it will again part with it, though 
slowly, without any alteration in its temperature.' 1 '' 

The principal interest, as we think, of this paper on 
''Irritability," is the evidence it affords of his determ- 
ination to keep his mind free from preconceived no- 
tions on a subject which was at that time calculated 
to mislead him, especially as he then participated in 
the general impression that the Oxygen was "the great 
source of animal heat,'' a view which he afterward, and, 
as we think, for excellent reasons, mistrusted. 

This view has been revived, but, so far as we know, 
in no very philosophical spirit. While we would re- 
spect the opinions of men, we can only reason on the 
paramount authority of nature; and we see increasing 
ground to believe that he who would leave out of phys- 
iological inquiries so large a portion of the necessary 
induction as the phenomena of disease, no matter what 
be his authority, will only add to the number of those 
who have shown that, the moment we neglect the most 
comprehensive search for facts, of which our knowl- 
edge admits, we fall into error. Mr. Hunter has re- 
corded his opinion of the impossibility of obtaining a 
knowledge of functions without considering the phe- 
nomena of disease, and all experience hitherto has 
tended to give this observation the validity of an 




" Know, Nature's children all divide her care, 
The fur that warms a monarch warmed a bear." — Pope. 

In the foregoing experiments, the reader will have 
observed the significant words, " having killed a frog," 
Abernethy not approving of experiments on living ani- 
mals. When we reflect for a moment on the thousands 
of dreadful experiments which have been made on liv- 
ing animals, and the utter inconclusiveness of them 
for any useful purpose, there are, among the numerous 
errors by which so many philosophical inquiries have 
been delayed or defeated, few that are more lament- 

This mode of investigation has not, so far as we can 
see, produced any one useful discovery, while it has 
tended to obscure, by all that is disgusting and re- 
pulsive, the true mode of cultivating a most alluring 

But as we write, however humbly, as physiologists, 
we may be regarded as advocating the claims and at- 
tractions of that science with something of the esprit 
de metier, rather than in the cautious spirit which 
should characterize a philosophical discussion, let us 
for one moment consider the claims of physiology on 
the attention of mankind. 

Physiology has for its object the investigation of the 
functions and relations of the whole organic kingdom 
(the vegetable and animal creation), and can not be 


successfully cultivated without, consulting the phe- 
nomena in both these kingdoms of nature. 

The branch of physiology most interesting to the 
medical philosopher is that which deals with the func- 
tions of animals in general, and of man in particular. 
The special interest to the medical philosopher is there- 
fore obvious; let us just glance at its more general 
claims. Linnteus said that the world was one vast 
museum; and it illustrates the nature and attributes 
of the Deity. 

But how? In the first place, by the numerous evi- 
dences it every where presents, even to our finite ca- 
pacities, of design, wisdom, and power; and further, of 
the Unity of that power. But, to our finite percep- 
tions, it does not every where present evidences of love, 
mercy, and parental care ; not because they may not 
exist universally, but because our faculties do not al- 
low us to connect these ideas with any but "sentient 

This alone renders physiology one of the most ele- 
vating of all human studies — most general in its ap- 
plication — most comprehensive in the attributes it un- 
folds to us, and, therefore, most refining to our moral 

Although, therefore, we would claim the special the- 
ological evidences of physiology as the distinguishing 
excellence of this science, it is not less commanding as 
regards the evidences which it affords in common with 
other parts of the Creation. 

In animals, we see not less indications of design, 
wisdom, power, and beauty than elsewhere, but we 
also see a provision for their wants and comforts, of 
such a kind as leaves no room for doubting that both 


have been the objects of design. We need not here go 
into the multiplied proofs of this proposition. 'A priori, 
then, it would seem very unlikely that a mode of in- 
vestigating the functions of animals would be product- 
ive which begins by ignoring one of their most striking 

This, too, at once suggests the moral question ? 
Is it right? There is no necessity, for our present 
purpose, to moot that question. We have, over and 
over again, challenged investigation, but the case is too 
clear to admit of discussion. Again, although we 
humbly submit that the moral bearing of philosophical 
questions is always a legitimate subject of inquiry, 
yet it is inexpedient to introduce that question where 
it is not required. The questions whether the progress 
of physiology has been accelerated by experiments on 
living animals, or whether the treatment of diseases 
has been improved by that mode of inquiry, or wheth- 
er it has tended to mislead people into erroneous and 
mischievous views, are all things that admit of proof 
entirely independent of moral considerations. Now we 
should be sorry to appear to undervalue that which we 
most highly prize, or to represent that to be irrelevant 
which is, in all subjects, the great consideration ; but 
it is wise to take the ground chosen by those who ar- 
gue in support of a fallacy, not that which they would 
ignore or regard as disputable. 

As we have already observed, we think it demonstra- 
ble that experiments on living animals, involving cru- 
elty, have been entirely unproductive, while they have 
tended to mislead more than any other mode of inves- 
tigation whatever. Some years since we corrected some 
very unaccountable misstatements in regard to the ex- 


periments of Orfila, Sir Charles Bell, and others, which 
could only be accounted for by a want, of attention to 
the works from which they were selected ; for it is 
curious to observe that (though different in kind) the 
most conclusive evidence of the erroneous value attrib- 
uted to the experiments is furnished by the distinguish- 
ed authors themselves. 

Orfila wished to know what would be the effect of 
various poisons on the animal economy. He therefore 
set to work as follows: He opened the gullet of a living 
animal, put in the poison, and then tied the tube; and 
this to ascertain how the stomach dealt with substances 
of this kind taken into that organ. Now there have 
been, unfortunately, too many instances afforded by ac- 
cidents and by suicides of these very things in the hu- 
man subject, presenting us with a series of facts deplor- 
able enough, it is true, but which, regarded merely as 
grounds of philosophical inquiry, are free from objec- 
tion, while the experiments made by Orfila on his tor- 
tured animals are obviously loaded with all the ele- 
ments of fallacy. We say nothing of the horrible cries 
that Orfila describes these animals as uttering; but 
surely if the object had been to interfere with and ob- 
scure the processes of nature by every conceivable in- 
genuity, one could not have imagined any conditions 
better calculated for this purpose. 

Sir Charles Bell was a physiologist who distinguish- 
ed himself by a really important discovery, and it has 
been cited as an example of the successful application 
of the mode of inquiry in question. Whoever will read 
his book will at once perceive the truth of that which 
he himself judiciously observes — namely, that physi- 
ology is much more a science of observation than ex- 


periment. As to the influence of experiments on ani- 
mals in his own discoveries, we have his own authority 
for denying it. He states very clearly the object with 
which he was reluctantly induced to make some ex- 
periments. They bad, in fact, nothing to do with his 
discovery. Th«y were made in reluctant concession 
to the slowly-paced perceptions of others. 

This he had the manliness to acknowledge, and the 
benevolence to regret. In short, examine what series 
of experiments we may, we always find them either 
wholly unproductive, or, if they appear to prove any 
thing of value, it is always something that is much 
more logically deducible from sources altogether unob- 
jectionable. But if this be so, is there no mischief in 
unproductive modes of inquiry? Again, putting aside 
the brutalizing tendency of such practices as part of 
the moral question, Is life so long? Is Science so easy ? 
Is Physiology, and especially the deplorably halt, con- 
dition of Medical Science, in such a state that we can 
a fiord to waste time in vicious modes of inquiry? We 
think not. Is there nothing mischievous in our en- 
deavor to obtain by the evidence of sense (the eye) 
that insight into nature which Lord Bacon has so em- 
phatically warned us is the office of higher — in fact, 
of our intellectual perceptions? If we are not allowed 
to indulge in feelings of disgust and abhorrence at all 
that is revolting to common sense, and our best and 
kindliest sentiments, can we read without distrust of 
experiments which so disgust by their nature that we 
know not how to describe them, or which are so re- 
volting, from their cruelty, that the mind recoils from 
the contemplation of them? Is it possible to read 
many of the experiments of Spallanzaui without feel- 



ing the same disgust that Abernethy used to express 
in regard to them, or to read of opening animals alive, 
dividing them with instruments, breaking their bones, 
or running red-hot wires into their cavities, without 
feelling (if, indeed, any thing better is to be regarded 
as merely "mawkish sentimentality") that at least 
valuable time has been wasted in pursuits Nvhich have 
been brutalizing and unproductive? 

In a review of some Biography in the " Quarterly," 
one of the experiments was characterized by the writer 
as "hellish;" we have no desire whatever to use un- 
necessarily strong terms, nor do we think that the one 
above mentioned was too strong for the case to which 
it referred ; but we think that this extremely fallacious 
mode of investigation will be most quickly abandoned, 
by meeting fairly, and in a mild and moderate spirit, 
any allegations in its favor Dr. Hull, of Norwich, 
and several other eminent persons, have expressed 
their dissent from this mode of inquiry. 

For our part, we have several times stated our will- 
ingness to discuss any class of experiments which 
may be selected ; for, although we may not express 
ourselves so well as a late writer in the "Quarterly," 
yet to our minds heaven and hell do not present an 
idea of greater contrast than that afforded by the no- 
tion that laws which govern the whole animal king- 
dom, and which present, at every moment, accumu- 
lating evidences of goodness and mercy, should be au- 
spiciously sought, much less have their nature and re- 
lations developed by torture of those very objects for 
whom such benevolent provisions have been designed. 
We have paid some attention to this subject, and it is 
very curious to remark that observations or experi- 


merits, when they cease to be cruel, become instruct- 

Indeed, if we reflect for a moment, we shall see that 
it must be so. If we desire to know the actual nature 
of any living being, it must be as if we were ourselves 
unseen — that is, that the animal may be in a perfectly 
undisturbed condition. The moment we lose this, ele- 
ments of interference immediately arise and fog our 
reasoning; and the more refined the inquiry, the more 
the avoidance of disturbance becomes essential; so 
that, in fact, the utmost success in obtaining the con- 
ditions philosophically necessary depends on maintain- 
ing as nearly as possible the natural condition — that 
is, the comfort of the animal. 

In every path of life there are unpleasant duties, 
and it might have happened that the functions of ani- 
mals could only have been investigated by the means 
we would repudiate ; but the simple truth is, that it 
is demonstrably otherwise. 

Abernethy had a decided objection to experiments 
involving cruelty. He never made any himself that 
could fairly be so called, and he never alludes to the 
subject without some remark tending to show his dis- 
approval of them. Nor is it, in our view, any dispar- 
agement that his benevolent feelings were largely in- 
fluential in governing his opinions on this subject. He 
began his researches with the ability and inclination 
to investigate Life under every phase, at a time when 
no one had begun, so far as we know, to question this 
mode of investigation. But while he left no other un- 
tried, he only recognized experimenting on living ani- 
mals so far as to show that his benevolence could be 
sufficiently discriminative to select experiments where 


the existence of suffering was doubtful, and that tho 
doubt alone was sufficient to induce him to abandon 
the pursuit. 

We are sorry to dismiss a subject of so great im- 
portance with what we feel to be so meagre a discus- 
sion. But it would require more than our whole space 
to examine the many thousand torturing experiments, 
and expose the uselessness and fallacies which they 
exemplify. We have elsewhere discussed the subject 
somewhat more at large; here we have only the op- 
portunity of just touching on it. The greatest respect 
we can pay the memory of a great man is to apply 
carefully any principles which he may have left suffi- 
ciently matured for practical purposes, and so to treat 
those of which he may have only left us hints or ele- 
mentary suggestions as shall most searchingly exam- 
ine their nature and claims to further development and 
cultivation, ff every opportunity is not sufficient to 
do this in full, we must comfort ourselves with the 
hope that where there is not ability to produce convic- 
tion, there may appear sincerity of purpose to induce 
the still more valuable result, ''patient inquiry." 

That is a duty which we owe to every subject on 
which we venture to form any opinion, either in the 
study or the practice of our profession, and we have 
the utmost confidence that the scientific investigation 
and the moral argument will be found to coincide. 

" Heaven's attribute is universal care, 
And man's prerogative to rule, but spare." 




" Cogitatio in vero exquirendo maxime versatur. Appetitus im- 
pellit ad agendum." — Cicero. 

"The Intellect engages us in the pursuit of Truth. The Passions 
impel us to Action." 

In our brief sketches of Abernethy's works, we are 
quite as desirous of showing why he did not do more, 
as we are of setting down faithfully our many un- 
doubted obligations to him. This, indeed, is the best 
mode of giving an onward impulse to those approach- 
es toward a definite science which (John Hunter ex- 
cepted) he was the first to secure. If we would in- 
crease the usefulness of those beautiful principles which 
he has left us, we can hardly do better than endeavor 
to point out any error or deficiency in the investigation 
of any subjects to which such principles may be ap- 
plicable. His work on "Tumors" contains much that 
is interesting in regard to the peculiar character of his 
mind, and his aptitude for simplification. He does not 
undertake a thorough investigation of the subject. His 
object seems to have been to place in an intelligible 
order; to chronicle and mark that which was really 
known; to pack together, as it were, that which was 
clear and positive, in a form convenient for consider- 
ation ; to remove that disorder and obscurity which 
seem to hang about the threshold of all inquiries, and 
substitute so much of arrangement and perspicuity as 
might invite, and perhaps facilitate, further investiga- 


He states the more important facts which he had 
observed, and conducts his classification of the so-call- 
ed "Tumors" on a basis as scientific as it could be on 
an imperfect induction of facts. He did this in a 
way eminently characteristic of his quick perception, 
in seizing those properties on which a nomenclature 
should be based, and in marking those distinctions 
which, in a practical science, must always be regard- 
ed as of the greatest value. He founded his nomen- 
clature chiefly on certain resemblances observed in 
these diseases to well-known structures of the body. 

The simplicity of this plan, so long as the resem- 
blance is obvious, is just that which constitutes excel- 
lence in nomenclature. To take an example among 
others, he says there is a tumor, the structure of which 
resembles the Pancreas, or Sweet-bread, as it is pop- 
ularly called, and to this tumor he gives the name of 
Pancreatic. Now every one knows a sweet-bread, and 
the name implies no opinion whatever as to its nature ; 
it simply declares a fact. "Whatever we may ulti- 
mately discover with regard to tumors, a name of this 
kind, though it may possibly be exchanged for one 
more significant of the nature of the disease, will still 
leave us nothing to unlearn, for the tumor in question 
will always have that resemblance from which Mr. 
Abernethy named it; and if we should find (as indeed 
we do find), in course of time, that diseases undergo al- 
terations of type, the rarity of a tumor resembling the 
sweet-bread would record that circumstance. 

Had he examined them by the microscope, and se- 
lected the appearances so elicited as grounds for his 
classification, it would have been much less useful. 
In the first place, comparatively few persons would 


have had the opportunity or taken the pains to observe; 
and, secondly, we should have had the inconveniences 
resulting from that variety which we generally find in 
the reports of microscopic researches. There is just 
now a great disposition for microscopic inquiry, per- 
haps somewhat too much ; hut no channel should he 
neglected if it be not too exclusively relied on. Aber- 
nethy amused himself at one period in examining ul- 
timate structure by the microscope, but he seems to 
have had but a very measured reliance on this mode 
of investigation. 

Judicious nomenclature is of immense importance 
in the frame-work of a science, and a want of care in 
this has probably done as much as any thing to impede 
the course of rational investigation. There is nothing, 
perhaps, in the whole range of science more to be la- 
mented than many — indeed, I might say all — parts of 
medical nomenclature. If our ignorance prevents us 
from giving a name to a thing which is descriptive of 
its nature, we might easily avoid applying such as are 
calculated to mislead ; we can imagine the confusion 
which would result from a druggist labeling a bottle 
of water " poison," and a vessel containing poison " wa- 
ter," yet we doubt whether he would more imperfectly 
express the true relations of these fluids than the terms 
" fever" and " inflammation" do the real nature of the 
conditions which they are employed to designate. 

Abernethy's arrangement of tumors not only illus- 
trates his disposition to seize on the more salient points 
of a subject, but also his inclination to seek for the es- 
sential relations of (so-called local) disease in the gen- 
eral condition of the body. He consistently, therefore, 
mentions them in an order founded on such relations. 


He places those first which he had found least danger- 
ous in their nature, least destructive in their effects, 
and which appeared to him to have been attended by 
the least disturbance to the general economy. In like 
manner, he placed those which had manifested more 
malignant or dangerous characters in the order of their 
severity, inferring their characters respectively from 
the disturbance of the constitution, the resistance of 
the disease to treatment, and the variety of structures 
destroyed in its progress. 

Between these two extremes, he placed, as the step 
of transition, that tumor which he had observed to par- 
take most strongly of intermediate characters. But, 
besides the desire to throw some light on the subject 
of tumors generally, he had another special object in 
view. Few diseases exemplify the absence of scien- 
tific research more than tumors. In regard to most of 
the morbid depositions, it may be remarked that, even 
now, whenever a patient with one of these so-called 
tumors applies for advice, the practicability of removal 
is too often the only thing thought of; and it must be 
obvious to common sense that the mere cutting away 
of a deposition of this kind (however proper under some 
peculiar circumstances) can hardly ever exert any in- 
fluence on the causes of its production. Indeed, the 
manner in which these diseases are continually re- 
moved, without any previous inquiry that is really wor- 
thy of the name, is among the many grounds on which 
we found the opinion expressed in the sequel on the 
present state of medical surgery, as contrasted with 
that in which it was left by Abernethy. Now, while 
the gravity of the subject rendered the consideration of 
all tumors important, there was one which in an espe- 


cial manner had eluded all efforts to expose its nature 
and dependencies — this was the justly-dreaded cancer. 
In regard to this, Mr. Abernethy hoped that further in- 
formation might be obtained, by investigating other tu- 
mors more closely, and thus bringing, as he expresses 
it, collateral knowledge to bear on it, " like light shin- 
ing from various places to illustrate the object of our 

Here was a suggestion in the true spirit of philo- 
sophical inquiry, while, in taking so simple a basis for 
the names of tumors, and then associating them in ar- 
rangement with their respective constitutional tenden- 
cies, he adopted the best mode of recording in a gener- 
al sense their more important relations. But the fault 
la)' in the suppressed premise that the relations of the 
so-called tumors were comprehended by a division which 
is not founded in nature. Nothing, indeed, can be more 
artificial than that division of diseases to which sur- 
geons usually restrict the term tumor — a defect which 
besets all medical inquiries. The old division, in which 
all sorts of diseases were jumbled together under the 
general name of tumors, defective as it might be, was 
much more auspicious, had it ever been made the ob- 
ject of a really philosophical inquiry, because the very 
diversity of the phenomena they presented would, by 
the ordinary process of common sense or inductive rea- 
soning, have only served to bring out their common 
characters — a most important first step in all investi- 
gations of this nature. 

Had Mr. Abernethy extended that collateral view 
which he justly insists on to all sorts of new deposi- 
tions, instead of confining it to the so-called "tumors," 
he would have detected how artificial was the division, 



and taken it at its just value ; he would have found 
that he had excluded circumstances which not only- 
led to a much more intimate knowledge of the rela- 
tions on which those so-called tumors depend, but 
which confer a power of demonstrating easily, and in 
a more particular manner, to the most ignorant or prej- 
udiced, those relations to a disordered state of the body 
which, without such assistance, it required a mind no 
less penetrative and suggestive than Abernethy's to 
give even a general enunciation. This defect essen- 
tially consisted in the vice we have before alluded to, 
and is nothing else but a violation of one of the rules 
most insisted on by Lord Bacon.* 

It proceeds, perhaps, from the habit of looking at 
subjects through a medium too exclusively anatom- 
ical, and by which even Mr. Hunter was sometimes, 
though exceptionally, hampered. Popularly, it was 
deducing conclusions from only a portion of the facts 
of the subject; but if Abernethy did not get the whole 
of the facts, and therefore missed some portion of the 
conclusions to be drawn from them, he at least avoid- 
ed the error of inferring any thing positive which the 
facts did not warrant. We hope, however, that the 
paper has been valuable in enabling some of us to ar- 
rive at further views, which serve to confirm the truth, 
and extend the application of those entertained by 

Now, to put the whole thing popularly, and to direct 
the public view to the common sense of the matter, it 
is obvious that if we want to know the real nature of 
any growth whatever — say a tumor, a plant, or an ani- 

* That the nature of a thing is not to be sought only out of itself, 
but from things more in common. 


mal — we can not do this by any examination of its 
structure alone. If we desire to know its nature, we 
must also examine its habits, food, climate, and the va- 
rious influences to which it is subjected. If, indeed, 
this were once done, then it is very possible, on again 
seeing the structure merely, we might recognize its 
real relations, although we might still be glad to have 
any well-known substance to which we could compare 
it, if only to record its identity. This is right enough, 
thus to obtain the general knowledge before we assume 
the particular. Again : suppose I had some ground 
growing all manner of plants and twenty different sorts 
of fungi, what should I get by merely examining the 
fibres of one or the other? 

But I should easily discover that some plants grew 
best in one soil, some in another, some with more 
moisture, some with less ; while the very circumstan- 
ces of soil, moisture, and so on, which were essential 
to some, might be enfeebling or destructive to others. 
No one will for a moment doubt that the kind of nu- 
trition was of great importance in all, and this would 
necessarily lead me to infer that, ''If I desired to get 
such a fungus, I must have more moisture, less air, 
less heat or light, or another soil," and so on. 

In a plant, you must also look to the roots and 
other parts of the organism. Now this is exactly what 
should be done in regard to tumors, and for no reason 
more strongly than that the great beauty and benefi- 
cent effects of Mr. Abernethy's views may become prac- 
tically useful; for, in the same manner that we would 
desire to influence the plant or the fungus through the 
sources whence it derives its nourishment, as air, wa- 
ter, various ingredients in the earth, and so on, so the 


only channels by which toe can effect, any influence 
are those organs by which these matters are ultimate- 
ly changed into the structures we wish to maintain 
there, or we desire to get rid of, as the case may be. 
Now, although the number and relations of these or- 
gans may render the investigation more difficult in one 
case than in another, as their relations are more mul- 
tiplied as the animal or vegetable is more or less sim- 
ple or complicated in structure, yet, whether we take 
our example from man or any other animal — or, in fact, 
any organized being of the countless modifications we 
find in nature — still the instrumentality through which 
the vital power acts is neither more nor less than the 
assimilating organs. 

If we have been too professional in this discussion, 
we plead as an apology that in no one point in the 
whole range of surgical practice would unnecessary 
suffering be avoided more frequently than on the sub- 
ject before us, provided only that what is clear and 
positive, as distinguished from what is conventional and 
erroneous, were once popularly familiar; for, among 
other evils, most of the operations in this department 
of surgery are not only superfluous — to use no stronger 
term — but they yet practically interfere, more than any 
one thing whatever, with the progress of the scientific 
investigation of the nature of these maladies. 

The removal of them by operation is too commonly 
undertaken, not only under circumstances which, as 
Abernethy said, " add cruelty to calamity," but for 
reasons which logically forbid such a proceeding; and 
although there are conditions which call for such in- 
terference, yet those under which it is usually insti- 
tuted help only to obscure the real relations of the dis- 


ease, and to throw the shadowy veil of an irrational 
empiricism over the operations of nature. 

Those who recollect the remarkable results which 
Abernethy sometimes obtained in regard to this in- 
tractable and often formidable class of diseases, will, I 
think, be disposed to agree in thinking that few dis- 
eases are more open to improved investigation, or prom- 
ise a more encouraging prospect of enlarging the bound- 
aries of philosophical medicine. 



Fractured ribs are common accidents, and illustrate 
very beautifully those conservative principles in ani- 
mal bodies which give such interest to the study of 
their economy. 

When first we consider that the ribs form the great- 
er part of that box in which the lungs and heart are 
inclosed, and by which they are protected, we are dis- 
posed to regard a fracture of one or more ribs as a very 
serious affair. 

Nevertheless, these accidents generally do extremely 
well. In the first place, the gristles, or cartilages as 
they are called, by which the ribs are attached to the 
sternum in front, give, in conjunction with the spine 
behind, considerable elasticity to the whole structure 
of the chest. Most injuries have therefore to overcome 
the elasticity before any thing gives way ; and when 
the rib has done so, and is fractured, the resiliency of 
the cartilage or gristle to which it is attached tends to 
restore it to its place, or to set it, as we phrase it. 

Another very common thing in accidents is the in- 


stantaneity with which muscles which are ordinarily 
under the dominion of the will become reluctant to 
obey it, or altogether repudiate its authority. In all 
fractures, of course, the most material thing is absolute 
repose, and there is very little chance of a man moving 
his rib when it is broken. He instinctively begins to 
expand his chest for the admission of the necessary air 
by other muscles, usually to the exclusion of those 
which are attached to the broken bone. 

The Lung, which may be considered as a series of 
tubes, some conveying blood and others air, is often 
wounded, but the blood immediately stops the leak, 
from its tendency to coagulate when out of the ves- 
sels, and no harm ensues. Occasionally, however, a 
circumstance occurs, which, until it is understood, ap- 
pears curious and alarming. Either from the extent, 
the scratching of the surface, or some other peculiarity 
in the wound of the lung, the air escapes from it, and 
the patient is, as it were, blown up, as in the chest, 
neck, and face, by the air impelled from the lung be- 
neath the skin into the connecting tissue, exactly in 
the same manner as the butcher does when he is pre- 
paring veal. This blowing-up is called, from the 
Greek word for it, Emphysema, and it was on this 
feature in these accidents that Mr. Abernethy wrote a 
short paper. 

There is not much which is absolutely new in it. 
It is chiefly remarkable for the clear manner in which 
it places before us what is required, as distinguished 
from what is officious and unnecessary, and, in fact, re- 
duces the treatment to that of ordinary cases with one 
clearly defined modification. 

He shows his familiarity with Pneumatics, so far as 


they are touched by the case, just as he does his knowl- 
edge of Chemistry elsewhere. The exceptional cases, 
in which the air is confined in the chest, the mode of 
procuring it an exit by operation, and the condition 
regulating this proceeding, are very, simply and clear- 
ly laid down. 

The paper also contains remarks on the collapse of 
the lungs when the chest is opened, and on certain ex- 
ceptions which have been observed, which, from their 
general interest and suggestive character, will well re- 
pay an attentive perusal. 

He next offers a few remarks on those mothers' 
marks, as they are popularly called, and which are 
technically styled ntevi; these are usually little more 
than clusters of enlarged blood-vessels, and are usual- 
ly removed by excision or other operative proceedings. 
As the essential character of these marks is increased 
action and size of vessels, Mr. Abernethy thought that 
if well-regulated pressure were made on them so as 
to impede the flow of blood into them, and this were 
conjoined with Cold (which represses vascular ac- 
tion), many of them might be got rid of in this man- 
ner. He found his idea realized, and published three 
cases of its success. The value of these suggestions 
consists, first, in the opposition they offer, pro tanto, to 
that absurd tendency there is to remove every thing 
like a tumor, and the impediment thence arising to 
any searching inquiry into the causes on which they 

But there is another inconvenience which occasion- 
ally renders the excision of these nsvi very unadvisa- 
ble. It sometimes happens that they are so situated 
that they can not be removed without making the dis- 


figurement greater, or from some other still more seri- 
ous objection ; as, for example, when small ones occur 
in the face, or when they are placed near the eye. 
Under such circumstances, the contraction consequent 
on a wound of any extent is a serious inconvenience; 
in some of these cases the adoption of Mr. Abernethy's 
plan allows us to dispense with the operation by ex- 
cision, as I have myself experienced. As it illustrates 
the advantage of the plan in a case where it was par- 
ticularly applicable, I will briefly refer to one example. 
A young lady had one of these marks at the root of 
the nose, where, from the position, as well as from the 
contiguity of the eyes, any dragging from the contrac- 
tion of a scar would have been particularly undesir- 
able. She was brought from the country to have it 
removed, but, on representing the objections to that 
course, it was agreed to try Mr. Abernethy's plan, 
which was completely successful. 

At this period Mr. Abernethy published sundry other 
interesting papers, showing, in his observation of all 
that was passing around him, that his views were not 
less circumspect and comprehensive than they were 
clear. His "surgical cases" are all excellent; and if 
they do not contain so full an account (the great vice 
of medical records) of all the circumstances which pre- 
ceded them as are sufficient to furnish future investi- 
gators with the elements of accurate generalization, 
they are remarkably valuable for the qualities of clear- 
ness and candor. 

We may have an opportunity of briefly alluding to 
some of these papers in our Summary ; but they aro 
hardly practicable subjects for popular analysis, al- 
though they form some of the most valuable contribu- 


tions to the practical literature of the profession. 
They show, also, that he was as penetrative and effi- 
cient in regard to the operative department of practice 
as he was in those higher and more extended views, 
which, in enlarging the science of surgery, has tended 
to diminish, of course, the number of operations. 

About the year 1785, John Hunter had invented his 
celebrated improvement in the treatment of a disease 
of the arteries called "Aneurism." It was a very sim- 
ple deduction from observations on the state of the arte- 
ries ; and although it was one of those inquiries which 
had been made the subject of experiments on living 
animals, it was one on which not the smallest light 
had been thrown by such investigations. 

Mr. Hunter had found that, in addition to many 
other serious objections to an operation which had 
been usually performed for the relief of this disease — 
a giving way, or enlargement of a vessel (for it is 
sometimes one, sometimes the other) — a great cause 
of failure had been, that the ligature, which was 
placed round the tube, was too near the disease, and, 
in fact, involved a portion of the tube which was un- 
sound. He accordingly proposed tying the artery a 
little further off, and thus substituted, for an opera- 
tion which was extremely severe, very hazardous, and 
too commonly fatal, a comparatively short and simple 
proceeding, which, under moderately favorable auspi- 
ces, is almost uniformly successful. 

Like most other discoveries, accident and similarity 
of views had suggested similar proceedings to others, 
so that Continental surgeons were disposed to dispute 
the merit of the discovery in favor of (juillemeau, G-u- 
tani, Anel, Dessault, &c, as their views favored one 


or other; but there can be no doubt that the immedi- 
ate institution of the operation for the definite pur- 
poses to which it was applicable was due to John 

John Hunter's operation applied to the main artery- 
supplying the lower extremity, and surgeons have since 
extended the operation to many other arteries. The 
first extension of it, however, occurred to Mr. Aber- 
nethy, who about this time — 1797 — placed a ligature 
on what is called the external iliac artery ; and as he 
seldom touched any thing which he did not improve, 
he made an important modification in the mode of pro- 

Subsequent experience, it is true, has in some meas- 
ure rendered that improvement no longer necessary; 
yet, whenever circumstances arise which lead to any 
material disturbance of the artery from its situation, 
we apprehend the caution of Abernethy, in tying it in 
two places close to its connection with the surround- 
ing parts, is a valuable condition. 

He also sent, about this time, an ingenious paper to 
the Royal Society on certain small openings into the 
cavities of the heart. They are called the " Foramina 
of Thebesius," from an anatomist who particularly de- 
scribed them. This is to us one of the prettiest of his 
physiological contributions. The facts are stated with 
great simplicity, their relations to disease beautifully 
pointed out, and the inference from the whole very 
striking, as being in harmony with the facts whence 
it is deduced; Abernethy's idea being that the holes 
were for the purpose of obviating excessive repletion of 
the nutrient vessels of the heart by allowing them to 
relieve themselves by pouring a portion of their blood 


through these holes into the general mass of the circu- 
lation. It could hardly, however, be made interesting 
to the general reader without going into the subject 
more than is suited to our present object. 

In 1799, Abernethy's reputation had gone on rapid- 
ly increasing. His numerous pupils, too, had become 
the media for frequent consultations, in addition to 
those which arose from his own connection and repu- 
tation with the public. 

He now moved from St. Mildred's Court, and took 
the house in Bedford Row. This was some time pre- 
vious to October, 1799, the September of that year be- 
ing the last time his name appears on the rate-book 
of St. Mildred's Court. He never again changed his 
professional residence. The move was an important 
step, but it was only the precursor to one still more 

In the January of the following year, an event oc- 
curred which seldom fails to exert a greater influence 
on a man's future prospects and happiness than any 
other — this was no less than his marriage — of which 
we must say a few words in a separate chapter. 




" Ye solvers of enigmas — ye 
Who deal in mystery — say 
What's cried about in London streets, 
And purchased every day. 

" 'Tis> that which all, both great and small, 
Are striving to obtain, 
And yet, though common and quite cheap, 
Is daily sought in vain." 

Old Riddle. 

There are few subjects on which people are more 
agreed than the value of " good matches," neither do 
they seem to differ very widely as to what that phrase 
is intended to convey. Not that every body's beau- 
ideal implies identity of composition, but they are pret- 
ty well agreed as to the more essential elements. 

But if we observe the different ways by which peo- 
ple seek to obtain a common object, we are puzzled to 
know how folks that set out in such various directions 
should ever arrive at the same point. The travelers 
are said, too, to provide themselves not unfrequently 
with various disguises, not only in dress and externals, 
but even in manners and sentiments, which they do 
not usually entertain. Thus we have heard of one 
who professed a great love of music, who scarcely had 
an idea of melody ; of another who expressed an admi- 
ration of poets whom he had never read, or voted un- 
mitigated bores. Others have been known to avow a 
perfect indifference to wealth who have had scarcely 


an idea unmixed with an instinctive admiration of the 
as in presenti. 

We once heard a curious fellow say that he could 
marry any lady he liked, if he could only "bring him- 
self to take the trouble ;" and we thought how happy 
he would be if he could live on as good terms with his 
wife as he appeared to be on with himself. Some start 
with an apophthegm which they carry about like an 
amulet or charm, such as " No greater rogue than he 
who marries only for money, and no greater fool than 
he who marries only for love." Apophthegms, however, 
like many things in this world — Macintoshes and um- 
brellas inclusive — are very apt to be left at home when 
most wanted. 

We are not informed whether table-turning or mes- 
merism have yet discovered any prophylactics against 
the undoubted perils of an expedition in search of a 

We are unfortunately not sufficiently versed in these 
mysteries to know the "latest accounts," but, from the 
reputed effects of platinum and other metals, we should 
not be surprised to hear that a person well mesmerized 
would be found very clairvoyant of gold. We know 
not how far it is required to go to obtain the lofty in- 
signia of so exalted a position as to become a professor, 
but it is said that "Professors" find gold without the 
necesssity of going to the " diggings." 

Table-turning, we hear, has not as yet been found 
successful. By shooting too much ahead of the slow- 
ly moving current of human affairs, it skipped over 
one generation, and thus recently entrapped an Irish 
gentleman of the " highest respectability" by giving a 
fortune to a lady too soon, it happening to be found still 


in possession of its "right owner" — or, as the technical 
phrase is, "in expectation." 

Many aspirants for wedlock have sundry misgivings 
about certain traditionary repulsions which are said to 
exist between love and poverty, and, uninfluenced by 
the charms of matrimony, think only of the possible 
consequences. Not a few, however, regard marriage 
too serious an affair for sport or speculation. They 
think it very difficult for mortals who know so little 
of themselves, to know much about other people, and 
that, though matches in rank and money are daily seen 
to be very practicable, yet that matches in mind are 
still as difficult as Dryden represented them — 

" Minds are so hardly match'd, that e'en the first, 
Though pair'd in Heaven, in Paradise were cursed." 

People of this sort contemplate marriage in a very 
unpoetical manner. They have great faith that cor- 
rect intention and common sense are the best guides; 
and, although they may not feel less transported with 
their prospects than other people, they are apt to re- 
member that it is "transportation for life." 

A great deal has been said of the marriage of Aber- 
nethy, and very much of it in proof of his eccentricity 
of character. 

If, indeed, the routine which many adopt as the 
preliminaries of marriage be the symbol of wisdom 
in such matters, Mr. Abernethy's proceeding might not 
improperly be regarded as eccentric; but if a steady 
reliance on common sense on an occasion on which it is 
sometimes laid aside, and the employment of the high- 
est qualities of the mind for the most important pur- 
poses be wise, we must, if we allege the eccentricity 
of Abernethy, concede to him the less equivocal merit 


of practical wisdom. Himself a sensible and clever 
man, a great admirer of these properties in others, he 
was not very likely to ally himself to any lady who 
appeared deficient in such characteristics. 

Abernethy had a very quick perception of character, 
and his profession afforded him ample opportunities 
for the exercise and the cultivation of this quality. 
He would not have been very likely to lay it aside on 
occasions similar to those on which he had been ha- 
bitually called on to employ it. There are difficulties 
in getting at the details on such occasions too obvious 
to require the mention of them, and we can not, there- 
fore, be understood as pledging ourselves for the ac- 
curacy of the version we are about to give of the mat- 
ter, but we would not give even that if we had not 
good reason to believe it to be substantially true. 

Miss Anne Threlfall was the daughter of a gentle- 
man who had retired from business, and who, it ap- 
pears, bad been residing in the town or neighborhood 
of the far-famed Edmonton. This lady had been stay- 
ing with some friends near London (at Putney, we be- 
lieve), where Abernethy was visiting, and, as we have 
been informed, in his professional capacity. 

He had there an opportunity of observing her kind- 
ness and attention, with which he was much gratified. 
But to these were added personal attractions of no 
common order, and lively lady-like and agreeable man- 
ners, which have been invariably appreciated by all 
who have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Abernethy. 

The " situation" was not ill calculated to allow two 
clever people to form some opinion of each other, since 
they would meet under circumstances favorable to the 
exhibition of character. We shall have to deal with 


the subject of manner by-and-by ; and, whatever ex- 
ceptions we may have to record, we may here observe, 
that no man could be more kind in his manner than 
Abernethy, and, at all events, he was pretty sure to be 
unaffected. He had always, too, a most sensitive ap- 
preciation of kindness to patients in others. Now, sup- 
posing his opinion formed, his resolution taken, there 
was still for Abernethy a difficulty: he was very shy, 
and extremely sensitive ; wholly absorbed in teaching, 
studying, and practicing his profession, his rising am- 
bition just grasping at success. How was resolution 
or opportunity to be found for the tardigrade, time- 
consuming progress of a regular siege? But we sus- 
pect that ''shyness" was the real Rubicon he felt a dif- 
ficulty in passing. Common sense said, you are about 
to ask a lady to intrust her happiness for life to you. 
Conscience said it was a great deal to ask, and timid- 
ity was equally afraid to make the request or to brook 
a refusal. Surely it was a question not to be answer- 
ed, as he used to say, "off-hand." 

Should not some time be given for consideration ? 
Now a short note would cut the G-ordian knot of all 
these difficulties, and this was the course he adopted. 
He wrote a note expressive of his wishes, pleading the 
nature and variety of his occupations in apology for 
the method of making them known, and requesting the 
lady to take a fortnight to consider of her reply. We 
are not sure that something might not have been said 
in deprecation of the time wasted in too much "dan- 
gling" on these occasions. Be this as it may, as the 
world knows, the request was successful. 

The marriage took place accordingly in the parish 
church of All Saints, Edmonton, on the 9th of Janua- 
ry, 1800, and is thus entered in the Register : 


" John Abernethy, Bachelor, of the Parish of St. Andrew's, Hol- Anne Threlfall, of this Parish, Spinster, were married in this 
Church by license, the 9th day of January, 1800, by me, 

" D. Warren, Vicar. 
" This marriage was solemnized between us : 

"John Abernethv, 
"Anne Threlfall. 
" In the presence of 

" William Patten, J.Hodgson, 

"William Hodgson, Mary Threlfall, 

" Charlotte Hodgson. '' 

As we have said, we believe the foregoing is sub- 
stantially the correct version of Mr. Abernethy's mar- 
riage ; but if there be any inaccuracy, this is at least 
certain, that on this occasion he secured a partner for 
life every way worthy of him — a lady who to personal 
beauty added those social and moral excellences which 
combine to form a superior woman, and one to whom 
even such a man as Abernethy could look up with 
equal respect and affection, as the wife, the mother, 
and the friend. 

If we forbear to enlarge on this subject — if we fore- 
go any particular mention of the reverence in which 
Abernethy's memory is held, and other evidences of 
the superior cast of mind to which he was so long and 
so happily united — we need only say that Mrs. Aber- 
nethy is still living, and well enough, we trust, to look 
back with pleasure on a retrospect such as, perhaps, 
comparatively few have been permitted to enjoy, and 
with enough of her characteristic kindness to excuse 
the few observations in which we have ventured to in- 

One circumstance on the occasion of his marriage is 
very characteristic of him, namely, his not allowing it 
to interrupt, even for a day, a duty with which he 


rarely suffered any thing to interfere, namely, the 
Lecturo at the hospital. 

Many years after this, I met him coming into the 
hospital one day, a little before two (the hour of lec- 
ture), and seeing him rather smartly dressed, with a 
white waistcoat, I said, 

"You are very gay to-day, Sir?" 

"Ay," said he; "one of the girls was married this 

"Indeed, Sir," I said. "You should have given 
yourself a holiday on such an occasion, and not come 
down to lecture." 

" Nay," returned he. " Egad ! I came down to lec- 
ture the day I was married myself!" 

On another occasion, I recollect his being sent for 
to a case just before lecture. The case was close in 
the neighborhood, and it being a question of time, he 
hesitated a little; but being pressed to go, he started 
off. He had, however, hardly passed the gates of the 
hospital before the clock struck two, when all at once 

he said, "No, I'll be if I do!" and returned to 

the lecture-room. 




" From the barr'd Vizor of Antiquity 
Reflected shines the Eternal light of Truth 
As from a mirror ; all the means of action, 
The shapeless masses, the materials 
Are every where around us. What we need 
Is the celestial five, to change the flint 
Into transparent crystal bright as fair." 

Longfellow's " Spanish Student." 

In all that Abernethy had hitherto published, it was 
easy to perceive that, although he was carefully exam- 
ining the prevailing opinions and practice of the day, 
he was emphatically one of those independent thinkers 
who had power to overlay the most established con- 
ventionalisms with opinions of his own; that although 
hitherto his publications had related to particular dis- 
eases or accidents, and which were held as within the 
ordinary province of the surgeon, he was shadowing 
forth principles — views which, if they were true, must 
necessarily have a much wider range of application 
than to the particular cases which it had been his ob- 
ject to consider. In 1804, he had sufficiently matured 
his general views to think it right to publish them; 
and this he did in his book on the Constitutional Ori- 
gin of Local Diseases, popularly known as the "My 
Book," to which he not unfrequently referred his pa- 
tients for a more detailed account of his views than he 
could find time to give in the consulting room. When 


we reflect that diseases consist entirely of altered con- 
ditions in the structure or function in some part of the 
body, a formal announcement that they must be great- 
ly influenced by the organs on which the whole body 
depends for its nutrition seems to have so much the 
aspect of an obvious truism, that we scarcely know 
whether most to wonder at so formal an announce- 
ment of it having been necessary, or the astonishing 
number and variety of the reservations with which it 
has been admitted. 

But, strange as this may appear, and although all 
the facts have been before the eyes of man for ages, 
nay, though their relations have been more or less felt 
and acknowledged in cases usually submitted to the 
physician, we venture to say that nothing like an at- 
tention at all adequate to their importance was obtain- 
ed for them in the practice of physic, and scarcely any 
at all in surgery, until the time of Abernethy. 

At the present time, a great deal has been done to 
establish, by the most clear and indisputable demon- 
stration, the practical usefulness and necessity of the 
principles to which Abernethy conducted us in the cure 
of diseases, whether medical or surgical. Still, these 
principles are much neglected, much misunderstood, or 
so imperfectly carried out as to excite, even in many 
of the public, expressions of astonishment. It is, in- 
deed, not too much to assert that even in those cases 
in which their successful application has been most 
incontestably exemplified, his principles are fairly car- 
ried out on comparatively few occasions. 

The causes of all this are, we fear, too clear; the re- 
moval of them is more difficult. We may possibly dis- 
cuss both in the sequel. 



Instead of the exquisite simplicity and clearness of 
Abernethy's views, so far as he had gone, being care- 
fully studied, and with a view to the extension of them 
beyond those limits which his time, his opportunities, 
and his caution had assigned to them — instead of ex- 
amining into and testing the practical value of the de- 
ducible, and, in fact, necessary sequences, on views of 
which he had demonstrated the truth and value, prac- 
tice appears to have taken a retrograde movement. 

He who would advance even as far as Abernethy is 
in danger of being regarded as crotchety or peculiar, 
while any who should strive, by a more careful exam- 
ination of his views, to render their practical applica- 
tion more definite and analytical, must be prepared to 
be looked on simply as an enthusiast. 

This has, indeed, been the case more or less in all 
sciences from the earliest times. The facts which con- 
duct us to a true interpretation of the laws in obedi- 
ence to which they occur, have been always before us; 
the very same facts on which, as Professor Who well* 
observes, we have raised the stately structure of mod- 
ern sciences. Butlert had before made the same re- 
mark. Poets too, as even the motto to our chapter 
shows, have held the same sentiment ; what every 
body knows, how few consider! Neither Copernicus 
nor Galileo altered or invented facts. Those they ob- 
served! what they discovered were conclusions inter- 
preting their true relations. Bodies fell to the earth, 
and the crystal rain-drop had shown the composite na- 
ture of light in the beautiful colors and wonderful il- 
lustrations of the rainbow ages before Newton's discov- 

* " History of the Inductive Sciences." 
t Butler's " Analogy." 


ery showed the true explanation of the one, and the 
great law exemplified in the other. 

The ohject of " the Book" is to set forth the great 
fact of the reciprocal influence existing between the 
nervous system and the digestive organs, and the pow- 
er they mutually exert in the causation and cure of 
diseases ; and this, whether the diseases originate in 
disturbance primarily directed to the brain or any oth- 
er portion of the nervous system, or to the digestive or- 
gans; whether the result of accident, such as mechan- 
ical injury, or other local manifestations more common- 
ly termed disease. In the book before us we shall find 
an ample refutation of many misconstructions and mis- 
apprehensions of Abernethy's views ; misconstructions 
which have tended to obscure principles which were 
remarkable for their simplicity and truthfulness; to 
impede the beneficial application of them in a manner 
which has been equally injurious to the public and the 
profession, and which have impressed on mankind a 
very inadequate idea of the obligations due to the dis- 
tinguished author. His views were said to be theoret- 
ical and exaggerated, while they were the strictly de- 
ducible conclusions from facts; and so far from their 
pervading power in the causation and cure of disease 
having been exaggerated, the onward study of them 
only serves, by the discovery of more multiplied and 
refined applications of them, to fill in with additional 
illustrations the accurate outline which he has so truth- 
fully drawn. He never wrests a fact to a conclusion 
to which it does not legitimately lead. In virtue of 
that suggestive quality of his mind (so important an 
aid in philosophical inquiries), he occasionally, in all 
his writings, puts forth suppositions, but these only as 


questions, the next in the order of inquiry, and these 
he asks of nature alone. 

Mr. Hunter had been the first in this country to 
make the true use of anatomy — I mean in the sense 
that while it was no doubt the basis of our investiga- 
tion into the functions or uses of parts, still it was only 
one of an extensive series of inquiries. He had exam- 
ined the dead with no purpose more earnestly in his 
mind than to assist him in his endeavors to observe 
the living — examined parts that he might better un- 
derstand the whole. He had made himself familiar 
with the economy of animals, and generally with the 
habits of organized beings, whether animal or vegeta- 
ble, that he might know their relations to each other, 
and that of the whole to the phenomena, habits, and 
laws of the Human economy. As he neglected no 
source whence it had been customary to seek for in- 
formation, so, notwithstanding his fondness for ani- 
mals, he made various experiments on living creatures. 
But while these experiments afford additional proofs of 
the poverty, so to speak, of this plan of investigation, 
they impress on us the truth of Sir Charles Bell's as- 
sertion, that physiology is essentially a science of ob- 
servation. We have only to place Mr. Hunter's observ- 
ations and experiments here referred to in juxtaposi- 
tion, in order to bring out in high relief the great mean- 
ing and value of the one, and the unnecessary or in- 
conclusive character of the other. He also examined 
the various facto presented to him in the living body 
with unequaled patience and circumspection. 

Among others, he had paid particular attention to 
those which exemplify that vivid, that watchful con- 
nection which exists between various parts and organs, 


and by which impressions or sensations excited in any 
one part are telegraphed, as it were, with the swiftness 
of lightning, to any or all of the organs of the body ; 
facts which may be observed by any body — by no one 
better, and by few so well, as patients themselves. To 
take a common example: every body is familiar with 
the fact that certain disturbances of the stomach pro- 
duce pain or other annoyance to the head. Every one 
is equally familiar with another fact, that there is very 
often no pain, and sometimes no sensation of annoy- 
ance in the stomach, so that were it not from an innu- 
merable succession of such conditions, in accordance 
with particular influences on the stomach, we should, 
from the feeling of the stomach only, never dream of 
the cause being in that organ. Now about these sim- 
ple facts hang not only the most practical of all John 
Hunter's observations, not only the most valuable of 
Mr. Abernethy's, but, as far as we can see, the phe- 
nomena through a philosophical examination of which 
we shall still most auspiciously seek to extend our 
practical knowledge of disease. We see here just that 
which Mr. Hunter had asserted, namely, " that, the or- 
gan secondarily affected (in this case, the head) some- 
times appeared to suffer more than the organ to which 
the disturbance had first been directed." 

He observed, also, that the connection thus mani- 
fested existed equally between all other parts and or- 
gans ; that, although it might be exemplified in differ- 
ent forms, still the association it implied was indispu- 
table. He adopted the usual terms by which these 
phenomena had been designated. Parts were said to 
sympathize with each other, and no term could be 
better, as it simply expressed the fact of associated 


disturbance or suffering. It is true the facts were not 
at all new; they had always existed; nay, they had 
been observed and commented on by many persons 
ever since the time of Hippocrates ; and, if I were to 
mention the whole of them, there is scarcely one which 
would not strike some one or other as just as familiar 
an acquaintance as a headache from disturbance of 
the stomach. Mr. Hunter, however, had a kind of in- 
stinctive idea of the yet unseen value of the clew thus 
afforded to the investigation of disease, and he observed 
these facts with a greater attention to all their details, 
than any one, or all who had preceded him. 

Hunter's observations on the subject in his lectures 
were extremely numerous, and elaborate even to tedi- 
ousness ; Abernethy, who used to give us a very hu- 
morous description of some of the audiences of John 
Hunter on these occasions, was accustomed to say, 
" That the more humorous and lively part of the audi- 
ence would be tittering, the more sober and unexcita- 
ble quietly dozing into a nap, while the studious and 
penetrative few appeared to be seriously impressed with 
the value of Mr. Hunter's observations and inquiries." 
Mr. Cline, an honored name in our profession, and one 
who, had he lived in later times, would probably have 
been as distinguished in advancing science as he was 
for his practical excellence, significantly expressed his 
impressions of the future importance of the inquiries 
in which Hunter was engaged. Addressing Mr. Clift 
after one of the lectures, he said, 

'• Ah ! Mr. Clift, we must all go to school again." 
Mr. Abernethy carefully treasured up and pondered 
on what he heard. He placed himself as much as he 
could near Mr. Hunter, and took every pains which his 



time and occupations allowed thoroughly to understand 
him ; and with his characteristic tendency to simplifi- 
cation said, "Well, what Mr. Hunter tells us resolves 
itself into this, that the whole body sympathizes with 
all its parts." 

His perceptivity, naturally rapid, was evidently em- 
ployed in observing the bearing of this axiom on the 
facts of disease. The digestive organs, which, if we 
extend the meaning to all those engaged in assimila- 
ting our food, compose nearly the whole viscera of the 
body, could not escape his attention, nor, indeed, fail 
to be regarded in all experimental investigations of any 
one organ. Accordingly, we have seen a very import- 
ant application of the relations between organs engaged 
in concurrent functions in his paper on the skin and 
lungs, in which, from physiological evidences of their 
being engaged in a common function, and the sympa- 
thetic association it rendered necessary, he had ob- 
served relations of great moment, and pointed out the 
practical bearing they must have on consumption. He 
had, however, been paying attention for some time to 
the digestive functions, when his intimate friend, Mr. 
Boodle, of Ongar, in Essex, gave a fresh stimulus to 
his exertions. This gentleman requested him to inves- 
tigate the functions and conditions of the liver in va- 
rious nervous diseases, as also in certain affections of 
the lungs, which had appeared to him, Mr. Boodle, to 
originate in the former organ ; Mr. Abernethy says, " I 
soon perceived that the subject was of the highest con- 
sequence in the practice of surgery, for local diseases 
disturb the functions of the digestive organs, and con- 
versely a deranged state of those organs, either occur- 
ring in consequence of such sympathy, or existing 


previously, materially affects the progress of local com- 

At the very commencement he hits on a great cause 
of evil, and boldly assails one of the most mischievous 
of all conventionalisms. " The division of medicine 
and surgery," he observes, "is mischievous, as direct- 
ing the attention of the two orders of practitioners too 
exclusively to the diseases usually allotted to them." 
There is, indeed, no exaggerating the evils of that par- 
tial mode of investigation to which such a custom al- 
most necessarily leads. We fall into error, not because 
of the difficulty of the subject, but because we never 
can, by looking at one set of diseased processes only, 
learn the whole of the facts belonging to the subject. 
It was just this that prevented Fordyce from arriving 
at correct views of fever. Nothing could be more ex- 
cellent than the way he began to consider it; but he 
hardly begins before he tells us that he intends to ex- 
clude those febrile affections which fall under the care 
of surgeons. Now, in doing this, he at once abandon- 
ed a series of facts which are absolutely essential to 
the investigation. It must be obvious, on a moment's 
reflection, that if a particular condition of a part have 
a relation to the whole body, the study of one without 
the other, or even if both be taken up by different per- 
sons, nothing but the most imperfect views can result. 
A jury, still more a judge, might in some cases guess 
from partial evidence the issue of a legal investigation, 
but who ever heard of either determining to examine 
a portion only of that evidence ? Yet it is not too 
much to say, that hardly any legal question can be so 
recondite as many questions on physiology. The na- 
ture of the case is always more or less obscured by a 


number and variety of interfering circumstances. Dis- 
eases may be regarded, in fact, as nothing more than 
natural laws, developed under more or less complicated 
circumstances of interference. 

Lord Bacon had warned all investigators of nature 
of the danger of attending only to a portion of the facts 
— it had been one of the great bars to progress of 
knowledge in general. I regret to say that it still 
continues the bane of almost all medical inquiries. 

Abernethy's inference from this mutilated sort of 
investigation is too true when he observes that "the 
connection of all local diseases with the state of the 
constitution has obtained little notice," whereas the 
truth is that " no part of an animal body can be con- 
siderably disordered without affecting the whole sys- 
tem." Now here Mr. Abernethy claims — what? sim- 
ply this: he claims for function — that is, the various 
offices fulfilled by the several parts and organs of the 
body — that which Cuvier has so beautifully insisted 
on, and which our own Owen has so instructively ex- 
emplified in regard to structure or formation, namely, 
a necessary relation between the whole and all its 

In speaking of affections of the nervous system, 
Abernethy observes that the brain may be affected by 
the part injured, and that then it may affect the vari- 
ous organs by a "reflected" operation; but that, what- 
ever may be the mode (thus carefully separating the 
opinion from the fact), "the fact is indisputable." He 
adds that it may affect some organs more than others, 
and thus give a character or name to a disease. For 
example, it might affect the liver, we will say, when 
the name which would be given would probably be 


expressive of what was a secondary circumstance, 
namely, a disturbance of the liver. This does not so 
frequently happen, perhaps, nor so mischievously, in re- 
lation to local injuries, hut in other cases it is the cause 
of a great deal of erroneous and misleading nomencla- 

As we have seen, it often occurs that, when the or- 
gans of the body are disordered, the more salient 
"symptoms," perhaps the whole of those observed, are 
referred to a secondarily affected organ, and the dis- 
ease is named from that circumstance. The too fre- 
quent result is, that attention is exclusively directed 
to that organ, while the cause, being elsewhere, and 
where there are no symptoms, wholly escapes observ- 

This is a very important branch of inquiry; and as 
it closely connects what Abernethy left us with what 
appears to us to be one of the next things to be clear- 
ly made out, we will endeavor to illustrate it. 

Suppose a person meets with a severe injury — a 
cut, bruise, fracture, or any thing that we have seen a 
hundred times before, and instead of being succeeded 
by the usual processes of repair, it be followed by some 
others; the simple expression of the fact is, that some- 
thing has interfered with the usual mode and progress 
of repair, and as former experience had shown us that 
there was nothing in the nature of the injury to ac- 
count for this, we are naturally led to look for the ex- 
planation of it in the state of the individual. But if 
the unusual appearance be one which we have agreed 
to call "Erysipelas,'' and we are accustomed to see 
long papers written upon this appearance as a distinct 
disease, we acquire a tendency, as every day's experi- 


ence shows, to regard it as a kind of abstraction, or as 
an entity — something composed of precise and defin- 
ite relations, contained in that particular description of 
case. Yet these relations may not be in any two suc- 
cessive cases exactly alike. Again, all of them may 
be subordinate to some more general character, prob- 
ably a relation without which we can not readily ex- 
plain the phenomena, but at which we can not arrive 
because we have not comprehended a sufficient num- 
ber of facts in our inquiry to include it. 

"Erysipelas" is nothing more than a natural law 
obscured, because, as we have just hinted, it is devel- 
oped under circumstances of interference (from disor- 
dered conditions of the economy) which distort the 
natural features of the law, modify its effects, or which 
may prevent altogether its full development. But now, 
if we study it by the means afforded by the various con- 
nected links which other varieties of disease furnish, 
the ascertainment of the real relations becomes compar- 
atively easy; and we find that while there are certain 
general relations which belong to all cases, there are 
certain others which may, in a given succession of 
cases, be identical, or in no two exactly the same. 

Partial investigations, leading, of course, to errone- 
ous views, are sure to entail on us a defective nomen- 
clature, and then the two do very materially contrib- 
ute to continue the fallacies of each other. We may 
have an affection of a lung — perhaps the cause may 
not be in the chest at all, although the lung may be 
inflamed or otherwise; but we call it pneumonia, or 
pleuritis, or some other name which simply refers to 
what is happening to the part ; but all these have ref- 
erence only to effects; they are extremely defective, 


therefore, as comprehending only a portion of the ?ia- 
ture. and having no reference whatever to the seat of 
the cause of the malady. The consequences of all 
this may not be necessarily mischievous, but they are 
so lamentably common as to continue to form a very 
large sharge of the routine practice. The cause is 
elsewhere, but the remedies are directed to the chest 
— that is. thev are. in such cases, applied to effects, 
not causes. If we must retain names so defective, it 
would be very practicable to combine them with some- 
thing which should indicate that we had at least luok- 
ed for the cause. This would, at all events, encourage 
a habit of looking beyond mere symptoms, and carry 
us at least one link higher up the chain of causation. 

Abernethy, in demonstrating the connection between 
local disease or injury and general disturbance, judi- 
ciously takes cases where, the relation was most une- 
quivocal — that is. where the local disturbance consisted 
of a mechanical injury — such as in a gentleman who 
had undergone an operation, in another who had met 
with a bad fracture of his leg. In order to amplify his 
illustrations of the connection between the brain and all 
parts with the digestive organs, he draws them from 
all sorts of sources — from diseases the most severe and 
dangerous as well as from affections which are regard- 
ed as most common or trivial — from the last stages of 
cancer and serious diseases of the loins, to the common 
disturbances of teething in children — sources which, 
from their apparent dissimilarity, confer, of course, the 
strongest force on testimony in which they combine. 

His delineation of the features by which disorders 
of the digestive organs may be generally detected is 
remarkably simple, clear, and truthful. 


Every word has the inestimable value also of being 
alike intelligible to the public and the profession. His 
statement is interspersed with remarks of great value, 
which, we trust, have not passed away altogether un- 
improved ; such as, that he had observed disorder of the 
digestive organs produce states of health " similar to 
those" said to be characteristic of the absorption of par- 
ticular poisons — a most recondite subject, but one the 
obscurity of which has entirely, as we think, resulted 
from the determination to regard the diseases to which 
it refers as abstractions, and to investigate them under 
the impenetrable shadow of preconceived conjectures. 

Almost every thing, he remarks, has received more 
or less confirmation from the experience of the whole 
civilized world. There are few things in his observations 
more interesting than the emphatic way in which they 
ignore the vulgar impression that he referred all dis- 
eases to the stomach. In the whole round of scientific 
literature, it would be difficult to find, in the same 
space, so complete or comprehensive a view of all those 
which we usually term the digestive organs. 

Abernethy was very far from any such narrow views, 
while, in regard to other organs, to which some of our 
most distinguished men had paid particular attention, 
it is not too much to say that, more clear and precise 
than Curry, and equally careful with Hunter, not less 
painstaking than our excellent Prout, he is more ■prac- 
tically penetrating and comprehensive on this subject 
than any of them. But as to the charge of exclusive 
reference to the stomach, we shall easily see there was 
no foundation for it. 

In speaking of the reciprocal affections of the brain 
and the digestive organs, he says, " The stomach is 


said to be chiefly concerned in producing these effects, 
but the cause of the sympathetic affection is probably 
more general." — Page 48. He then goes on to ex- 
emplify causes acting on the Liver, and so forth. — 
Page 49. 

He distinctly contends that other of the chylopoietic 
organs may disturb the brain as well as the stomach- 
Again, at page 52, he repeats a similar opinion, and 
especially adds, that when the alimentary canal is af- 
fected, we can never be sure that it is primarily so. 

He also says, at page 53, that in some cases the dis- 
order of the digestive organs is dependent on disease 
of the brain. 

I have alluded to these passages because nothing is 
more unjust to Abernethy than to suppose that lie at- 
tributed every thing to the stomach, or restricted his 
attention to that or any other organ. Such a misap- 
prehension also tends indefinitely to impede the prac- 
tical application of his principles, and to deprive us of 
the advantages which are so constantly derived from 

This is so important, that it may be useful to con- 
sider a little the circumstances which may have thus 
misled the public, and. we fear, not unfrequently the 
profession also, in the interpretation of Abernethy's 

In conducting the treatment of diseases of the di- 
gestive organs, whatever organ we may desire to in- 
fluence, either by inducing tranquillity of the nervous 
svstem. or bv the selection of food appropriate to the 
actual condition of that organ, the stomach is neces- 
sarilv a primary consideration. 

The reasons for this are sufficient! v obvious, but 


have not, perhaps, heen always adequately regarded. 
Digestion is, on the whole, a manufacture, so to speak, 
of a raw material (food) into a fluid (blood) which is 
to be absolutely adapted to purposes for which it is de- 
signed. This is effected, not by one, but by several 
organs, which each produce their respective changes 
in the materials submitted to them. If we desire, 
therefore, to adapt the work to any organ which is en- 
gaged in this process, however remote it may be from 
the stomach, which, with the teeth and other auxilia- 
ries, execute the first process in the manufacture, it is 
quite clear that we must begin with the first process 
to which we subject the said raw material or food. 
S;iy that, in a machine for the manufacture of cloth, 
the spinning apparatus were out of order, we must be- 
gin by giving out a less quantity of wool to the card- 
ing-machine, or whatever represented the first process, 
because, having once delivered the wrong quantity or 
quality, we have no means of recalling it, and we 
should only still further derange the defective ma- 

So in the body ; the liver, kidney, and other organs, 
not excepting the lungs and skin — their work must 
all bear relation to the quantity or quality of raw ma- 
terial, whether their function be the manufacture of 
the new product, or the rejection of that which is use- 
less. So that, supposing there were no other reason, 
no other than this mechanical relation (which is very 
far from the real state of the case), still we must de 
facto begin with the stomach, even where we enter- 
tain no idea of any special derangement of that organ. 
The stomach, however, is very important in another 
sense, and has a power of indicating the necessity of 


attention to those points which I have endeavored to 
illustrate by the homely similitude of a manufacture. 

Wherever impressions first act on the body, Nature 
has placed a most vigilant guard. This is variously 
managed in different cases; the result is the same, 
and, as it would appear, the final cause also. In the 
eye there is the most beautiful contrivance for moder- 
ating the ingress of light, as also any abrupt increase 
of intensity. Fringed curtains are provided which can 
close with electrical celerity. Again, the aperture by 
which light is finally admitted into the eye is vividly 
contractile or expansive, as the occasion may require; 
then, again, there are various media of different densi- 
ties, through the influence of which even the velocity 
of light undergoes practical retardation by repeated 
refractions; and, lastly, there are powers of sensual 
adaptation in the nerve with which the light is ulti- 
mately brought in contact more wonderful than all. 

The ear, being likewise a portal for external im- 
pressions, is guarded with equal care. Not a single 
vibration of air can ever reach the nerve of the ear 
with the crude intensity (if I may use the expression) 
with which it is generated. Passing over preliminary 
apparatus, by which the vibrations of air are first col- 
lected, the impressions of sound are first received on 
the parchment of a little drum, which parchment can 
be relaxed or tightened with the quickness of thought, 
so as to modify the force of the impression. This im- 
pression is then, by means of a little chain of bones, 
conveyed across the drum, which is filled with air. 
It then reaches a portion of the ear in which are found 
very curious cavities and canals, of various forms, and 
taking different directions, and which, from the curi- 


ous and complex arragement of the whole, is not inap- 
propiately called the labyrinth. This is the mysteri- 
ous seat of those nerves which convey impressions to 
the brain. There is, however, here, an arrangement 
more exquisite than any we have yet mentioned. 

In these cavities and canals, which are themselves so 
small as to be not unfit objects for magnifying glasses, 
there are corresponding delicate sacs and tubes, and 
these are filled with a limpid fluid. On this delicate 
apparatus, so exquisitely calculated to modify any un- 
due force of impression, the sensitive extremities of the 
auditory nerves are spread out, which convey impres- 
sions to the brain. We see, therefore, how carefully 
these portals of the body are guarded ; arrangements 
equally conservative prevail throughout. We might 
show a similarly exquisite arrangement in the laws 
governing the mind, but that is not our present ob- 
ject. We have seen hitherto that, beautiful as the 
arrangement is for securing us against painful impres- 
sions, it has been in a great degree mechanical. 

The stomach, however, is the portal to a vast series 
of important organs, and is protected by a phalanx of 
sentinels endowed with powers proportioned to the im- 
portance of the organ which they guard. There is lit- 
tle that falls within any idea which we can express by 
the term mechanical; every thing is subjected to an 
examination essentially sentient — to powers residing in 
the nerves, the laws and operations of which we can, 
with proper attention, trace out, but which exhibit pow- 
ers demonstrative of an intensity and refinement of 
which our limited perceptions scarcely enable us to 
form a definite idea. 

First, there is the olfactory nerve, between which and 
the stomach there is the most vivid sympathy. 


Until our tastes become vitiated, the stomach seldom 
admits any thing of which the nose reports unfavorably. 
The sense of smell, even in the somewhat measured 
power possessed by man, is capable of detecting forms 
of matter so subtle as to be beyond our powers of im- 
agination. Nothing which so plainly deals with " mat- 
ter" impresses more strongly the immense range which 
must exist between the chemistry of life and that of 
the laboratory. We all know the extraordinary pow- 
ers of musk. I have myself a small mass of odorous 
matter (a Groa ball), which, from the circumstances 
under which it came into my possession, must have 
been emitting the odor for little less than a century. It 
has been exposed to air, is covered by a film of gold (I 
believe), and is in no respect visibly changed, and for 
the last thirty years not detectably in weight, and yet 
at this moment it emits as strong an odor of musk as 
ever. How exquisitely subtle must be the matter thus 
emitted, or how still more wonderful if it merely so 
modifies the atoms of air in its neighborhood as to pro- 
duce odor. We have no intellectual powers which en- 
able us to realize a conception of such infinite tenuity 
of matter, yet the sense of smell instantly detects its 

Next come the nerves of the tongue ; and here again, 
in natural conditions, there is a constant harmony be- 
tween them and the stomach — that to which the taste 
readily gives admission being, in undisturbed condi- 
tions of the economy, some guarantee that it is innox- 
ious : but what these functions are to the stomach, the 
stomach is to the other organs. In the first place, in 
natural conditions it usually at once rejects any nox- 
ious material which, from being disguised or from any 


other circumstances, may have eluded the vigilance of 
those sentinels I have mentioned ; hut it has a vivid 
sympathy with every organ in the body. If any thing 
deleterious he once admitted, it has to go through va- 
rious processes which may render it a source of indef- 
inite disturbance ; therefore, if any organ in the series 
of the blood-manufacture be materially disturbed — that 
is, as to be disabled — the stomach usually refuses food, 
because there is no other way of stopping the mischief. 
Illustrations of this occur in many disorders of the kid- 
ney, other portions of the alimentary canal, and other 
parts of the liver. 

No doubt the stomach is therefore a most important 
organ; but to suppose that it is therefore always the 
seat of disorder, is not only a most mischievous error, 
but a complete blind to its most beautiful and instruct- 
ive relations, and as opposite to Mr. Abernethy's views 
as the most narrow can be to the most comprehensive. 
Proceeding with his illustrations, Mr. Abernethy cites 
a number of most instructive cases, in which were va- 
rious nervous affections of the most serious character, 
including palsy — affections which we are accustomed 
to refer with too much truth to organic disease or me- 
chanical pressure on the brain or spinal marrow, but 
which, in the cases cited, depended on disorder of the 
digestive organs. 

It is impossible to exaggerate the interest or import- 
ance of these cases, not only from the fact that they 
almost certainly would have led to organic disease, but 
also for the value of that practical discrimination which 
they exemplify. Again, the very treatment which 
would have been proper, which had sometimes been 
begun, and which was not inappropriate to cases of 


organic disease with which the symptoms were in part 
identical, would have inevitably, in the cases in ques- 
tion, only served to exasperate the very conditions thev 
were intended to relieve, and to hasten those processes 
against which they were intended to guard. 

Xo one can understand the force of these cases with- 
out recollecting the intense difficulty of ascertaining 
that point at which disorder ceases to he merely func- 
tional, and at which organic disease begins. This is, 
of all things, the most difficult to determine in the 
whole circle of physiological inquiry. 

The symptoms alone are absolutely useless in anv 
case of real difficulty: of that Abernethy was well 
aware, and he did much to guard us against the error 
into which a reliance on them was calculated to lead. 
He knew that organs which were diseased would some- 
times afford indications not distinguishable from those 
of health: and that, conversely, organs essentially sound 
would sometimes only afford those signs which were in- 
dicative of disorder. We have, we trust, made some 
little progress in this very difficult branch of inquiry: 
and although it is True that organic disease not unfre- 
quently escapes detection during life. yet. so far as we 
have observed, it is only in those cases in which there 
is. notwithstanding the daily lessons of experience, an 
improper reliance on what are called the symptoms. 
We assert, without the least hesitation, that organic 
diseases should seldom elude detection where the in- 
vestigation is sufficiently comprehensive: but it must 
include all the facts of the case, the early history, and 
such circumstances which, however remote, have been 
over and over again proved to be capable of exerting 
an influence on the bodv — an investigation which, how- 


ever vainly pleaded for in medical science, however re- 
garded as too exacting, involves nothing more in prin- 
ciple than is required as a matter of course in all other 
scientific investigations. 

When these conditions are observed, it is very rare- 
ly that we can not detect organic affections in organs 
in which there may be no present symptoms. In re- 
lation to the extent to which they may be affected, it 
is true we have yet much to learn ; still, if cases be 
judged of, not by the history merely, nor by the symptoms 
merely, but by both in conjunction, and if to these be 
added a careful observation of the amount of work that 
the organs are separately or collectively doing, as com- 
pared with their natural proportions, together with a 
careful estimate of that which the actions of any visi- 
ble disease may be eliminating from the body, then, 
indeed, we have good ground for hope that means will 
be opened to us of distinguishing more accurately va- 
rious states of the system, and additional principles and 
powers disclosed of readjusting the disturbed balance 
of the various functions, which is the essential element 
of disease. 



" La premiere chose qui s'offre a l'Homme quand il se regarde, 
c'est son corps. Mais pour comprendre ce qu'elle est, il faut qu'il la 
compare avec tout ce qui est au-dessus de lui, et tout ce qui est au- 
dessous, afin de reconnoitre ses justes bornes." — Pascal, Pensee8, 
Nature des Hommes, vol. ii.,p. 57. 

Abernethy, in impressing any anatomical fact, would 
sometimes say that we carried about with us in our own 


bodies excellent means of refreshing our impressions on 
many points of anatomy; but we may say this in a 
much more extensive sense with regard to the inter- 
pretation of that for which anatomy is alone useful, 
namely, the uses or functions of the body. It would 
be very possible for any observant person who was mod- 
erately versed in the ordinary principles of correct rea- 
soning to detect many defects in medical investigations 
and practice, in the correction of which many of Aber- 
nethy's practical contributions consisted ; but the mind, 
restlessly impatient to arrive at conclusions, often over- 
looks the most important facts, and infers consequences 
from the evidence of the eye or other senses which can 
alone be safely trusted to the intellect. Nothing can 
exceed the mischief of this in serious matters, nor the 
absurdity of it, when we think a tvhile. 

We should hardly refrain from laughter if we saw 
a man try to see with the point of his nose, or endeav- 
or to examine the odor of a rose by his ear, or to listen 
with his eye ; yet this is not a whit more absurd than 
to try to deduce conclusions from the impressions fur- 
nished by the eye which can alone be afforded by the 
rational faculty. Nothing is more common than this 
sort of fallacy, nothing more easy than its correction ; 
but then people must bestow at least a little of that 
time on their highest faculties which they so lavishly 
expend on inferior powers. How much time we con- 
sume, for example, in the study of various languages 
— those instruments for the communication of ideas — 
as compared with that bestowed on the collecting and 
marshaling of ideas themselves, which is little better 
than grasping at the shadow and losing the substance, 
or, to use a humorous illustration, like a friend of our 



own, who, having a new dog, sent, his servant forth- 
with to purchase sundry articles for him, in the shape 
of kennel, chains, engraved collars, and food, all of 
which, at some expense, he safely accomplished to his 
master's satisfaction, expressing his sorrow, at the same 
time, for having accidentally lost the dog! 

It is curious, however, to observe how the real busi- 
ness of the human mind is shadowed forth in the very 
abuses of its powers ; nothing so bad but it is charged 
with a certain quantity of good ; no error so great but 
it carries with it the element of its own correction. 
The mind, in its greatest aberrations, is followed by 
the shadow of its real duty, which, as it were, waits 
on the time when clearer views shall burst on it. Noth- 
ing shows the real tendencies of mind more than its 
restless desire to arrive at some conclusion, some tan- 
gible evidence of its highest functions. It. is the im- 
pulse of this instinct — the ungoverned abuse of a high 
faculty, impatient for illegitimate fruition, which lies 
at the bottom of much false reasoning, and which 
blinds men, even of great power, to obstacles which 
are luminously evident to the most ordinary capacity. 
Important as the next series of illustrations cited by 
Abernethy are, the conclusions he deduced from them 
were the necessary sequences of clear and correct rea- 
soning on familiar and established facts. 

The. illustrations in question were those afforded by 
various cases of injuries of the head, in which certain 
consequences, however exceptional they may be, are 
too commonly referred to the abstract nature of the in- 
jury. We see that a man has a blow ; we see that he 
does not recover in the usual way in which we have 
known many others recover ; but we do not perhaps 


consider, that if a similar, nay, perhaps an identical 
force produces very different effects in different cases, 
the cause will probably not be in the nature or di- 
rection of the force so much as the condition of the 
body. Now the value of these cases of Abernethy's 
consists, first, in impressing the influence of this con- 
dition as modifying — in other words, sustaining- — the 
disturbance consequent 'on injuries (in their origin) 
purely mechanical ; and, secondly, in showing that in 
the cases in question that condition depended on a dis- 
ordered state of the digestive organs. We hardly know 
any cases more valuable than those in question. When 
a patient receives a blow, and the immediate conse- 
quences having subsided, there still remains any im- 
pairment of sense or motion, the most, usual thing, and 
no doubt, very often, the true view, is to refer it all to 
lesion of nervous structure. It is, therefore, of the 
highest consequence to know the facts of these cases; 
they not only prevent the hasty institution of treat- 
ment which would be injurious — not only secure the 
patient from being abandoned in despair, but supply, 
at the same time, the clews to a rational treatment 
and the hope of a favorable issue. 

There can now be few observant surgeons who have 
not met with cases in illustration of these circumstan- 
ces, and yet I know not to whom the perusal of Mr. 
Abernethy's cases might not be useful. It is not with- 
out regret that I forego transcribing at least one of 
them, forgetful how impossible it is to do Abernethy 
full justice in a work intended for all readers. In his 
"Book," the cases in question begin at page 97, and 
occupy but a few pages. 

The next class of cases, from which Abernethy il- 


lustrates the prevailing influence of the digestive or- 
gans, receives additional importance from the imper- 
fect manner in which the phenomena have been in- 
terpreted in a vast variety of diseases, like small-pox 
and others, ascribed to the action of particular pois- 
ons. We may possibly have an opportunity of saying 
something more on this subject, but we may remark 
that when any disease has been presented to the phy- 
sician or surgeon, supposed to be the result of specific 
poisons, it is just the last case in which any special 
attention is paid to the digestive organs. Now Aber- 
nethy observed that disorders of the digestive organs 
would sometimes produce diseases resembling mala- 
dies said to result from specific poisons; this is about 
the first indication or hint, which, duly carried out by 
an advancing science, will, we trust, ere long demon- 
strate what to us has long appeared only part of a 
general law; of this we may by-and-by say a little 
more, when we endeavor to show the small quantity 
of truth which there is mixed with some of the pre- 
vailing errors, and the dependence they have for their 
occasional success for blundering, as it were, on small 
portions of the principles enunciated by Abernethy. 

In the mean time, we may refer to the illustration 
afforded by small-pox of the remarkable influence of 
the digestive organs in diseases called specific. We 
adduce this, because it is one which is popularly fa- 
miliar, and a disease that, had it been studied under 
any but one particular phase, would have proved, of 
all others, the most instructive. There is no malady, 
under certain circumstances, more extensively fatal. 

In the Spanish conquest in America — a history 
scarcely less interesting in a medical than in a moral 


point of view — it seems that not all the cruelties of 
the Spaniards were more destructive than the small- 
pox. In less than a century after the arrival of Co- 
lumbus, it was computed that it had destroyel more 
than half the population: and in one vear (1590), it 
so spread along the coast of Peru that it swept away 
nearly the whole of the Indians, the Mnlattoes, and 
the Mestizoes in the cities of Potosi and Pe la Hav.* 

As is well known, before the discovery of vaccina- 
tion, persons were inoculated with the small-pox. be- 
cause it was found that the disease could be t/ius ten- 
th - I comparatively harmless, while if it was taken 
naturally, as it was termed, it was always serious, 
and too frequently extremely fatal. The preparation 
for inoculation consisted of measures addressed to the 
digestive organs; now the effect may be judged of by 
this fact: Inoculation was at first violently opposed, and 
in reply to the alleged safety of it, an opponent wrote to 
prove that one in one hundred and eighty-two had died 
of it. I wish we could say so of many other diseases. 

Thar such persons had nevertheless the ge'nuine mal- 
ady, was proved by the fact that they were capable of 
infecting others, unprepared, with the disease in its 
most malignant form. But our notions of the mode in 
which the laws of the animal economy deal with in- 
jurious influences of this kind are mischievously con- 
ventional. What quantities, for example, of mercury, 
in its different forms, have been administered in al- 
most all diseases; and yet unquestionably there is 
a ureal deal of false reasoning in regard to this pois- 
on. Effects are attributed to it as mercury which 

♦Clench's History. Letter from Ch. Uslano to Gonsalvo de So- 
lano, Julv, 1590. 


only belong to it in its general character of an injuri- 
ous agent. All the specific effects of it, most of which 
are become popularly familiar, may occur without any 
mercury at all. We have seen them induced by al- 
oes, by scammony; and in a case where no medicine 
had been given, and where the only detectable poison 
was one which was to be sure bad enough, an enor- 
mously loaded liver. 

We are obliged to say but little here in connection 
with this subject. Abernethy's cases were very im- 
portant in relation to the influence of the digestive or- 
gans, although he did not see the generalization to 
which, as it appears to us, they help to conduct the 
pathologist. The subject is too extensive for discus- 
sion here; we will attempt something of a popular view 
of it when we endeavor to explain, in a subsequent 
part of the volume, the fallacy to which we have al- 
ready referred. 

Abernethy next adduces various illustrations from 
cases of other diseases, as indurations, tumors, carbun- 
cles, scrofulous affections, and others, in proof of the 
dependence of a "numerous and dissimilar progeny" 
of so-called local diseases on that fruitful parent, dis- 
order of the digestive organs. Of one of the most in- 
teresting and remarkable cases of tumor, Mr. Aber- 
nethy did not live to see the termination. It was of 
a lady who consulted him previous to the proposed in- 
fliction of an operation. She had been recommended 
by my father, in the country, to consult Abernethy be- 
fore submitting to it — because he disapproved of it, as 
did Abernethy, not because they doubted of the nature 
of the disease, but because it was not confined to the 
part on which it was proposed to operate. 


The lady used to call on Abernethy when she came 
to town, and after his death she came to me, as she 
said, just to report her condition. She had, at times, 
various disturbances of her digestive organs, but al- 
ways from some imprudence, for, although habitually 
very simple in her habits, she would be sometimes 
careless or forgetful. 

She died at a very advanced age — between seventy 
and eighty — but there had been no return of the dis- 
ease for which she had originally consulted Abernethy, 
nor had she undergone any operation. It is a signifi- 
cant circumstance, too, that she had a sister who died 
of cancer. 

The whole of the cases are, however, scarcely less 
valuable. In the fifth section he treats of disorders of 
parts having continuity of surface with the alimentary 
canal, certain affections of ihe nose, of the eye. and of 
the gullet or oesophagus. His observations on the lat- 
ter are especially valuable. They strike at that med- 
dling practice which is too common in the treatment 
of diseases of these parrs. Many of us have endeav- 
ored to induce surgeons, without neglecting either, to 
depend less on manipulatory proceedings and more on 
measures directed to the general health in such ca^es, 
as producing effects which are not to be obtained by- 
other means: but. if we are to judge from the medical 
periodicals, without much success, so inveterate is the 
habit of imagining that, whatever the causes of dis- 
ease may be. if the results be but mechanical, me- 
chanical means can alone be applicable. Public at- 
tention and the perusal of such cases as those of Aber- 
nethy can alone correct these errors. 

Lastly, he describes the results of his dissections as 


bearing on the whole subject. Here he shows that 
while disordered function may take place coincidental- 
ly with or as a consequence of change of structure, yet 
that such change, so as to afford visible or detectable 
departures from natural appearances, is by no me.ans 
necessary, in organs which, during- life, had afforded 
the most incontrovertible evidence of impaired func- 
tion. He also shows that disease has terminated in 
disorder which had its original seat in the digestive 
organs; and again, that in cases where the cause of 
death had been in the abrogated function of the brain, 
he found no actual disease in that organ, but in tho 
abdominal viscera. He very justly observes that the 
conclusions he has drawn can not be either ascer- 
tained or disproved by anatomical evidence alone. He 
mentions especially, and illustrates by a remarkably 
successful case, how diseases of the lungs may be en- 
gendered by disorders of the digestive organs, and en- 
tirely subdued by correction of that disorder. 

He speaks also suggestively of the possibility of that 
which is certainly now an established fact. He says: 
"In cases of diseased lungs, where no disease of the 
digestive organs is discovered, yet considerable disor- 
der does exist, and may continue for many years with- 
out any organic disease being apparent, it is possible 
that such disorder may excite disease of the lungs, and 
thus produce a severer disease of the latter organs than 
what existed in the former. Accurate attention to the 
digestive organs may determine this important sub- 
ject, and lead to the prevention and cure of the sym- 
pathetic diseases which I have mentioned." "This 
attention must not be merely of that general kind 
which adverts only to the quality of the ingesta, &c, 


but one which more strictly observes whether the vis- 
cera" (that is, reader, not merely the stomach, not 
merely the digestive organs, but the whole viscera of 
the body) "and whether these secretions are healthy 
or otherwise." After speaking of the heart also as af- 
fected by the digestive organs, and of the infinity of 
diseases which arise from the reciprocal disturbance 
excited between them and the brain, he says : " But 
even these are not the worst consequences. The dis- 
order of the sensorium, excited and aggravated (by 
the means which he has described), affects the mind. 
The operations of the intellect become enfeebled, per- 
plexed, and perverted; the temper and disposition irri- 
table, unbenevolent. and desponding. The moral char- 
acter and conduct appears even to be liable to be af- 
fected bv these circumstances. The individual in this 
case is not the only sufferer, but the evil extends to his 
connections and to society. The subject, therefore, ap- 
pears to me to be of such importance, that no apology 
need be offered for this imperfect attempt to place it 
under general contemplation.'" Here is that sugges- 
tion which, when carried out. leads to the detection of 
cases of insanity which depend on disturbances of the 
digestive organs. 

Lastly, as if, notwithstanding his own previous at- 
tention to the important question of the influence of 
the digestive organs in disease, he felt that the inquiry 
had grown upon him in consequence of Mr. Boodle"s 
endeavor to concentrate his attention to the subject, he 
concludes by expressing his past obligations to Mr. 
Boodle : for he says, with admirable modesty and can- 
dor, "for Mr. Boodle first instructed me how to detect 
disorders of the digestive organs when their local si/mp- 



toms were so trivial as to be unnoticed by the patient." 
He urges Mr. Boodle to publish also his own observa- 
tions on the subject, because any remarks from one 
who observes the progress of disease " with such sa- 
gacity and accuracy can not but be interesting." We 
are quite aware how feeble our attempt has been to do 
justice to this admirable book. But nothing can do 
that but a careful study of the various principles which 
it either suggests, dimly shadows forth, or deeply and 
beautifully unfolds. 

Through not a very short life, we have had ample 
opportunity of testing these principles by the bedside, 
and of endeavoring to connect some of them with the 
laws in obedience to which they occur ; and we are 
free to declare our impression, that when the book is 
studied with the requisite previous knowledge and free- 
dom from preconceived opinion, and when tested and 
carried out in principle, as distinguished from any 
adhesion to mere matters of detail, we think it infin- 
itely more valuable that all other professional works 
whatever. In examining the truths it unfolds, or in 
our humble endeavors elsewhere at. a more analytical 
or extended application of them, like Abernethy, we 
have rested our reasoning wholly on facts and observa- 
tions which are acknowledged and indisputable. 

While other views have only led to a practice in the 
highest degree empirical, or, what is worse, conject- 
ural, those of Abernethy lead often directly, but al- 
ways, when duly studied, to a practice at once clear, 
definite, and in the sense in which we shall qualify 
the word, " positive" — that is, one which gives us the 
power (when we really have the management of the 
case) of predicting the success or failure, which is at 
least a ripple indicative of a coming science. 


In order, however, to carry out this clearly, wo shall 
at once add what we think necessary to the profession 
and the public on the subject. The general relation 
of Abernethy's labors to a real and definite science will 
be better developed in our concluding Summary, when 
we may have an opportunity of stating what further 
appears to have been done and what is yet required. 
It will have been, perhaps, already observed that Aber- 
nethy's views involve a few very simple propositions : 
first, that disturbance of a pari is competent to disturb 
the whole system : and conversely, that disturbance 
of the whole system is competent to disturb any part. 
That the disturbance may commence in the brain or 
nervous system, may then disturb the various organs. 
and that these may again, by reflected action, disturb 
the brain, and so reciprocally : and that in all these 
cases tranquillity of the digestive organs is of the very 
fi^t consequence, not merely from its abstract import- 
ance, but from the influence it exerts on the state of 
the nervous system. 

With respect to any influences immediately directed 
to the nervous system, these we apprehend to be few 
and simple; some kinds of medicine are. no doubt, in 
particular cases, useful — none are susceptible of gener- 
al application. None of them are certain; and seda- 
tives of all kinds, which appear to have the most direct 
influence on the nervous system, either require to be 
employed with the utmost caution, or are in the high- 
est deeree objectionable. But there are other direct 
influences certainly, and very important they are. 
Quiet, avoidance of disturbing external impressions, 
whether of liffht. sound, temperature", >x:c . whether, 
in fact, of mind or body : but in the majority of man- 


kind, how few of them we can, in a strictly philo- 
sophical sense, command. "We are therefore driven to 
other sources of disturbance; and in the digestive or- 
gans we find those on which we can exert great influ- 
ence, and in which tranquillity, however procured or 
under whatever circumstances, is certain, pro tanto, 
to relieve the whole system. This Abernethy attempt- 
ed, and with a success which was remarkable in no 
cas.i.s more than those which had resisted all conven- 
tional modes of proceeding — by general measures, by 
simplicity of diet, by occasional solicitation of this or 
that organ, by air and exercise, and measures which 
were directed to the general health. No doubt in some 
cases he failed, and so we shall in many ; but let us 
look boldly at the cause, and see whether we do not 
fail a great deal more from our own ignorance than 
from any natural impossibility. 

To examine the question, we must for the moment 
forget our admiration of Abernethy — be no longer daz- 
zled by his genius, but look only to our duty — endeav- 
or to discover his defects, or, rather, those of the state 
of the question when he left us, and see what further 
investigation has afforded in aid of supplying them. 

In the first place, we must examine a little further 
that proposition which we have seen both in Hunter 
and Abernethy under different forms. Hunter says the 
disturbance of the organ sympathizing is sometimes 
more prominent than that of the organ with which it 
sympathizes. Abernethy says that the organ primari- 
ly affected is sometimes very little apparently disturb- 
ed, or not even perceptibly so. 

Now, from both these statements, we find that there 
may be no signs in the primarily affected organ, which, 


practically rendered, is nothing more or less than say- 
ing that in many cases we must not seek for the pri- 
marily affected organ where the symptoms are; and 
this is a great fact ; because, although it does not nec- 
essarily teach us what we must do, it exposes the 
broken reed on which so many rely. Now the further 
point, which, as we would contend, time and labor 
have supplied, is first this: that what Hunter mention- 
ed as one feature in the history of the sympathies of 
different organs, and Abernethy as an occasional or not 
unfrequent occurrence, is, in disorders of any standing, 
and with the exception of mechanical injury, in fact, 
the rule, the symptoms of disorder being almost never 
in the primary organ — nay, even organic change (dis- 
ease) is for the most part first seen in a secondarily 
affected organ. In regard to primarily affected parts, 
the skin only excepted, they will be found, in the vast 
majority of cases, to be one or other of the digestive 

I will endeavor to render the cause of this intelligi- 
ble. A minute examination of what happens in a liv- 
ing person, especially if it be extended to some thou- 
sands of cases, will soon disclose to the most unletter- 
ed person a few instructive facts, showing that Nature 
has a regular plan of dealing with all injurious influ- 
ences, which, however various many of the details may 
be, is in general plan exquisitely simple, surprisingly 
beautiful, and intelligibly conservative; and that the 
various modes on which she exercises this plan, from 
the cradle to the grave, are in frequency directly in the 
order of their conservative tendency. Let us explain. 
There is no dearth of illustration; the facts are bewil- 
deringly abundant; the difficulty is which to choose, 


and how to give them an intelligible general expres- 
sion. Let us take a single case. We know that if a 
mote gets into the eye, there is irritation; immediately 
there is a flow of blood to the part ; a gland pours 
forth an abundant supply of tears, and the substance 
is probably washed out. Very well ; we say that is 
intelligible. But suppose you have the vapor of tur- 
pentine, or any other irritant, the same thing happens, 
but still you can not give the same mechanical ex- 

Again, substances) which affect the mouth, nose, and 
stomach, will irritate the eye without any contact, 
and cause a flow of tears. 

Lastly, you know that affections of the mind will do 
this, and where even we have no mechanical irritant 
at all. 

In all these cases there has been activity of the ves- 
sels of the eye, and in all it has been relieved by se- 
cretion. Now this is the universal mode throughout 
the body; all irritation of the organs is attended by se- 
cretion, and where this is done there is no disorder, or, 
rather, the disorder is relieved ; but if organs are irri- 
tated continuously, another thing happens, and that 
is, that an organ becomes unable to secrete constantly 
more than is natural, and then some other organ, less 
irritated in the commencement, takes on an additional 
duty — that is, the duty of the animal economy is still 
done, but not equally distributed. 

This is the state in which most people are in crowd- 
ed cities, and who live in the ordinary luxury or the 
ordinary habits of civilized society, according to the 
section to which they may belong. It is easy in such 
cases to detect those differences which distinguish this 


state from what is called condition or perfect health, 
as we have elsewhere shown.* 

But of course there is a limit to this power in organs 
of taking on additional or compensating actions, and 
when this limit is exceeded, then those actions arc in- 
stituted which we call Disease. The site is seldom 
found to be that of the original disturbance, and usu- 
ally for a very plain reason, because it would be more 
dangerous or fatal. It would be scarcely less serious 
in many eases, even though placed on organs second- 
arily affected, and therefore it is more usually determ- 
ined tu the surface of the body, where, taking them 
simply in the order of their greatest number or frequen- 
cy, we find the first class of diseased appearances, and 
which strikingly impress the real nature of the law. 
They are the most numerous, most obviously depend- 
ent on general disturbance, and most conservative, as 
being least fatal. Diseases of the skin are those to 
which we allude, and they exceed in the characters I 
have mentioned all other diseases. 

Again, the next surface is that involution of the skin 
which covers the eye, and which lines the mouth, 
throat, and the whole of the interior surface of the res- 
piratory tubes and the digestive organs. Here again 
we find the next seat of greatest frequency, and the 
conservative tendency to coincide. We need only refer 
to the comparative frequency of what are called colds, 
ordinary sore throats, and so forth, as contrasted with 
those more serious diseases which occur in the corre- 
sponding surfaces of the respiratory organs and aliment- 
ary canal. In tracing diseases onward in the order of 
their number, we never lose sight of this conservative 
♦ -Health and Disease ;' see Treatise on Tumors 


tendency. When organs become involved in disease, 
we find that for once that the substance of the organ 
is so affected, the membrane covering it is affected a 
hundred, perhaps a thousand times. This is equally 
observable in respect to the brain, heart, lungs, digest- 
ive organs, and some other parts, and it is of great im- 
portance practically to know how readily affections are 
transferred from the lining of the alimentary canal and 
other parts to the membrane covering it, rather with- 
out than to the intermediate texture of the organ, again 
impressing, though now in a dangerous type, truly the 
conservative tendency of the law. 

Finally, then, we arrive at diseases of Organs; and 
here we see this conservative tendency still typed in 
the site first chosen, which is almost always (where we 
can distinguish the two structures) not so much in the 
actual tissue of the organ as in that which connects it 
together — what we term the cellular tissue. 

This is remarkable in the lungs, where tubercular 
deposits are first seated — not in the essential structures 
of the organs, but in those by which they are joined 
together. All those various depositions which are call- 
ed tumors generally begin and are very frequently en- 
tirely confined to the cellular tissue, and although there 
is in some malignant forms a disposition to locate them- 
selves in organs, there is a very curious tendency to- 
ward such as may have already fulfilled their purposes 
in the animal economy. 

We might multiply these illustrations to a tedious 
extent. We might show, for example, in the eye, how 
curiously the greatest number of diseases in that organ 
are placed in structures least dangerous to the organ ; 
and even when the organ is spoiled, so to speak, how 


much more frequently this is in relation to us function 
as an optical instrument, than to the structure which 
forms the link with the brain as an organ of sensation. 
I must, however, refer* those who wish to see more of 
the subject to the work in which it is more fully dis- 
cussed, under the term the "Law of Inflammation, " 
which is a bad phrase, as imperfectly expressing the 
law; but as the greatest evils it exposes occur in cases 
of Inflammation, and as it shows the essential nature 
of that process to be entirely distinct from the charac- 
ters which had usually been ascribed to it, every one 
of which may be absent, so that expression was some- 
what hastily given to the generalization which seemed 
best to express a great practical fact. 

To return to the bearing of all this on Abernethv's 
views, and in relation to organs primarily or secondari- 
ly affected. In obedience to the conservative law to 
which I have above alluded, defective, function in one 
organ is usually accompanied by increased action in 
some other; and thus it happens that the symptoms 
are almost always in one organ, while the cause, or 
originally injurious influence, has acted on another. 
The general reader will of course understand that we 
are not speaking of direct mechanical injury to an or- 
gan. jYow all the most recondite diseases of the kid- 
ney are already acknowledged by many to be seated 
in a secondarily affected organ. Still, the practice is 
in too many instances a strange mixture of that which 
is in accordance with the true views, and much that is 
in opposition to it, because it often includes that which 
is certain more or less to disturb the organ which it 
should be the object to relieve. 

* " Medicine and Surgery one Inductive Science," London, 1838. 


In the same manner, the lungs and heart are con- 
tinually disordered and ultimately diseased from causes 
which primarily act on the liver, and I have seen such 
a case treated with cod-liver-oil and bitter ales with a 
result which could not but be disastrous. The liver 
sends an enormous quantity of blood to the heart and 
lungs, from which it ought to have extracted a certain 
quantity of carbon (bile) ; if this be not done, the heart 
and lungs are oppressed both by the quantity and the 
quality of the blood sent to them. If nothing happens 
in either of the various sites I have mentioned, the 
blood must be got rid of, and it is so. In many cases 
a vessel gives way — or blood is poured out from a ves- 
sel — or the blood is employed in building up the struc- 
tures of disease; but then the symptoms are frequent- 
ly altogether in the chest, and not a sign cf any thing 
wrong in the liver. 

I can not go on with the multitudinous illustrations 
of these principles. The law is to determine injurious 
influences to the surface. Deposition in the cellular 
tissue of the lung is bad enough, but it is better, that 
is, less certainly fatal there; than in the respiratory 
tubes, and that is the explanation of it. 

But now comes the practical point ; how is the pri- 
mary organ to be got at, because that is the way to 
carry out the removal of the impediments to the sana- 
tive processes of nature, which in many cases no mere 
general treatment can accomplish. This is to be found 
by an examination into the real history of the case, and 
adding the further test of a real and careful observation 
of the various secretions. 

By going back to the former life of the patient, we 
shall seldom fail to discover the various influences to 


which he has been subjected, and the organs to which 
they have been originally addressed. Having made 
up our minds, from our. previous knowledge of injuri- 
ous influences, on what organ they will most probably 
have acted, we now test this, not merely by inquiry 
after symptoms, and, it may be, not by symptoms at 
all. but by careful observation of the actual work of 
the suspected organ ; in this way we almost certainly 
discover the real offender — in other words, the organ 
primarily affected. This is of immense importance; 
for we confidently affirm that one single beneficial im- 
pression made on ir will do more in a short time — nay, 
in some rare instances in a sinsrle day — than years of 
routine treatment, that has been nevertheless of good 
general tendency. 

In treating it, i. e., the primary organ, however, great 
discrimination is necessary. If it be already organ- 
ically affected, that treatment which would be, under 
other circumstances, necessary, becomes either objec- 
tionable or requires the utmost caution ; for although 
an organ diseased in structure will, under some cir- 
cumstances, yield its characteristic secretion, yet, un- 
less we know the extent of the disease, which is just 
the thing we can almost never be certain about, excite- 
ment of it is never without danger. "We should there- 
fore excite the primary organ with more or less energy, 
with more or less caution, or not at all, according to 
circumstances. If we determine on not exciting it, we 
should then act on organs with which it has ordinarily 
closest community of function, or on whose integrity 
we can most depend : for choice, we prefer organs 
which, in a natural state, have nearest identity of 
function, as having the readiest sympathy, it may be, 


with each other. Yet so universal is the sympathy be- 
tween all the organs, that there is no one that will not, 
under certain circumstances, or which may not be in- 
duced, perhaps, by judicious management, to take on 
compensating actions. 

We must not here pursue this subject further. We 
have endeavored to sketch certain extensions of the 
views of Mr. Abernethy, and can only refer the profes- 
sion and the public, for the facts and arguments which 
demonstrate and illustrate them, to those works in 
which they have, been* enunciated. They have now 
been subjected to severer trials and abundant criti- 
cisms; so far as we know, they have not been shaken, 
but if there be any merit in them, if they shall have 
made any nearer approach to a definite science, or 
sketched the proofs that Induction alone can place us 
in a position to talk of science at all, they are still se- 
quences easily arrived at by a steady analysis of Aber- 
nethy's views. It was he who taught us, in our pupil 
days, first to think on such subjects; to him we owe 
the first glimpse we ever had of the imperfect state of 
medical and surgical science; and if we do not wholly 
owe to him the means by which we conceive it can 
alone be rendered more perfect and satisfactory, he has, 
at least in part, exemplified the application of them. 
If we have made some advances on what he left us, 
and added to his beautiful and simple general views 
something more definite on some points, something 
more analytical on others, still, inasmuch as they are 
clear deductions from the views he has left us, and 
from such views alone, such advances remind us that 

* " Medicine and Surgery one Inductive Science, and on Tumors," 
art. Treatment of Organs. 


the study of his principles serves but to demonstrate 
their increasing usefulness, and to augment the sum 
of our obligations. 


Mr. Abernethy'sbook "On the Constitutional Origin 
of Local Diseases" had an extensive circulation, and 
excited a great deal of attention from the public as 
well as the profession. 

As a work which may be read, as it were, in two 
ways, so as a person read it with one or other object, 
it produced a great variety of impressions. It. may be 
read simply as a narrative of a number of facts, with 
the inferences immediately deducible from them. All 
this is plain and intelligible at once to any body, and 
of great practical value; but the work contains numer- 
ous observations of a suggestive kind, that require care- 
ful thought, and some previous knowledge, to enable a 
person to estimate their value or to trace their onward 
relations. The impression made by the work on dif- 
ferent minds varied, of course, with the reader, his in- 
formation, and, in some sort, with the spirit in which 
it was studied; some who had, in their solitary rides, 
and in the equally solitary responsibilities of country 
practice, been obliged to think for themselves, recog- 
nized in the orderly statement of clearly enunciated 
views facts and principles which they had already 
seen exemplified in their own experience, and hailed 
with admiration and pleasure a book which realized 
their own ideas, and supplied a rational explanation of 
their truth and value. 

Some, who had never thought much on the subject, 
and were very ill disposed to begin, regarded his ideas 


as exaggerated, and hastily dismissed the subject with 
the conclusion that he was a clever man, but too full 
of theory — too much disposed to look to the stomach 
or the digestive organs. Others, making very little 
distinction between what they heard of the man, the 
book, or his practice, and probably not having seen 
either, but deriving only a kind of dreamy notion of a 
clever man with many peculiarities, would say that he 
was mad or an enthusiast. Still, a great many of the 
thinking portion of the public and the profession held 
a different tone. The book was recognized as an. in- 
telligible enunciation of definite views — rather a new 
thing in medical science. The application of them be- 
came more and more general; his pupils were every 
where disseminating them more or less, in the navy, in 
the army, in the provinces, and in America. 

Still, it must not be imagined that his principles 
were disseminated with that rapidity which might have 
been inferred from his numerous and attentive class. 
Constituted as medical education is — but more espe- 
cially as it was at that time, for it is slowly improving 
— pupils were almost entirely absorbed in the conven- 
tional requisitions for examination. There they were 
not questioned as to the laws of the animal economy, nor 
even real axioms in approximation to them, but simply 
as to plain anatomy, the relative situation of parts, and 
such of the ordinary surgery of the day as had received 
the approbation of those who were, for the time, the 
authorities in the profession. Therefore, out of a large 
number, there were comparatively few whose atten- 
tions were not too much absorbed by the prescribed 
curriculum of hospital routine to study principles — a 
curriculum constructed as if the object were to see 


how much could be learned in a short time without 
detriment to the very moderate requisitions of the ex- 
amination at the College of Surgeons. But if compar- 
atively few had time to study Abernethy's lectures at 
the time, a great many had treasured up his remarks. 
As the impressions we receive in our childhood, before 
we are capable of thinking of their value, are vividly 
rekindled by the experience of real life, so many of the 
more suggestive lessons of Abernethy's lectures, which 
passed comparatively unheeded at the time, or were 
swamped in "getting up" the conventionalisms of 
an examination at the College, recurred in after days 
in all their force and truthfulness. Many, however, 
with more time and perhaps more zeal, endeavored to 
thoroughly master his views, and he was now and then 
gratified by evidence that time had only served to ma- 
ture the conviction of the pupils, in dedications and 
other complimentary recognitions, in the works of such 
of them as had been induced to publish any portion oi~ 
their own experience. 

However various, ton, the impressions made by his 
bocik, there are two things certain, viz., that he was 
much talked of, and the book had an extensive sale, 
went through several editions, and served to give the 
Public some notion of those principles which he was so 
beautifully unfolding to the younger portions of the pro- 
fession in his lectures. Besides, although there were 
not wanting those who spoke disparagingly of him. still, 
as an old and very far-seeing colleague of our own used 
to say, with perhaps too much truth, when canvassing 
the various difficulties of a medical man's progress in 
the metropolis, " A man had better be spoken ill ofthan 
not spoken of at all " He was now beginning to be 


very largely consulted. The Public had "got hold of 
him," as we once heard a fashionable physician phrase 
it, and he soon obtained a large practice. A great 
many consulted him for very good reasons, and prob- 
ably many for little better reason than that he was the 
fashion. Abernethy had a great deal more practice 
than he or any other man could do full justice to; find- 
ing it impossible to make people understand his views 
in the time usually allotted for consultation, he now 
referred his patients to his book, and especially page 
72. This has been made the subject of a great deal 
of quizzing, and of something besides not altogether 
quite so good-natured. For our parts, we think it the 
most natural thuig in the world to refer a patient to a 
Book, which may contain more in full the principles 
we desire them to understand, than we can hope to 
find opportunity to explain at the time of consultation. 
We think that, if asking a few questions and writing a 
prescription (and we are here only thinking of a rea- 
sonably fair average time visit) be worth a guinea, the 
explaining a principle, or so placing a plan before a pa- 
tient that his following it may be assisted and secured, 
is worth fifty times as much; and it came particularly 
well from Abernethy, one of whose lessons, and a most 
excellent lesson too, was the remark, " That if a medi- 
cal man thought he had done his duty when he had 
written a prescription, and a patient regarded his as 
fulfilled when he had swallowed it, they were both 
deceived." As we are convinced that, ceteris paribus, 
success in medical treatment is indefinitely promoted 
by both patient and surgeon clearly understanding 
each other as to principles, we think it would be of 
great use if every medical man who has any definite 


principles of practice were to explain them in short 
printed digests — nay, we have sometimes thought it 
would be useful to both parties if, in addition to the 
inquiries and advice given at consultation, a medical 
man should have brief printed digests of the general 
nature and relations of most of the well-defined dis- 
eases; a careful perusal of one of these would help the 
patients to comprehend the nature and objects of the 
advice given, tend to the diffusion of useful knowledge, 
and in time help them to understand whether their 
treatment were conducted on scientific views, or mere- 
ly a respectable sort of empiricism. What is here in- 
tended might be printed on a sheet of note-paper; and, 
while it would be of great service to the, patient, would 
form no bad test of the clearness and definite princi- 
ples of the medical attendant. There is no doubt that 
Abernethy did good service by referring patients to his 
book ; it led some to think for themselves, and it also 
assisted, pro tanto, in doing away with that absurd 
idea which supposes something in medical practice in- 
appreciable by the public. 

At this time, while, with a considerable indifference 
to money, he was making a large income, still he was 
obliged to work hard for it. He had yet no emolument 
from the Hospital — he was still only an assistant sur- 
geon. The tenacity of office, which assistant surgeons 
so commonly complain of, they have, themselves seldom 
failed to exercise when they have become surgeons (as 
we shall see, Mr. Abernethy excepted). This long ten- 
ure by his senior wearied him, and was at times a 
source of not very agreeable discussions. 

On one occasion, Sir James Earle, his senior, was 
reported to have given Abernethy to understand tJiat, 



on the occurrence of a certain event, on which he 
would obtain an accession of property, he, Sir James, 
would certainly resign the surgeoncy of the Hospital. 
About the time that the event occurred, Sir James, 
happening one day to call on Abernethy, was remind- 
ed of what he had been understood to have promised. 
Sir James, however, having, we suppose, a different im- 
pression of the facts, denied ever having given any such 
a pledge. The affirmative and negative were more 
than once exchanged, and not in the most courteous 
manner. When Sir James was going to take his 
leave, Abernethy opened the door for him, and as he 
had always something quaint or humorous to close a 
conversation with, he said at parting, " Well, Sir James, 
it comes to this : you say that you did not promise to 
resign the surgeoncy at the Hospital ; I, on the con- 
trary, affirm that you did ; now all I have to add is, 

In 1813 Abernethy accepted the surgeoncy of Christ's 
Hospital, which he held until 1828, a short time before 
he retired from practice. 

In 1814 he was appointed Professor of Anatomy and 
Surgery to the College of Surgeons — an appointment 
which could be, at this period, of little service to him, 
whatever lustre it might reflect on the College, where 
he gave lectures with a result which has not always 
followed on that appointment, namely, of still adding to 
his reputation. He was one of the few who addressed 
the elders of the profession without impressing the con- 
viction that they had been too much employed in ad- 
dressing pupils. He had given lectures two years in 
succession, when, in 1816, circumstances occurred 
which will occupy us for some little time; a new scene 


will be opening on us, and this suggests the time — 
1815—16 — as convenient for taking a retrospect, and a 
sort of general view of Abernethy's position. 


" Sperat infestis metuit secundis 
Alteram sortem bene preparatum Pectus." 


"'Whoe'er enjoys th' untroubled breast, 
With Virtue's tranquil wisdom bless'd, 
With hope the gloomy hour can cheer, 
And temper happiness with fear." 

When we look abroad among mankind, nay, even 
in the contracted sphere of our own experience, it is 
interesting to reflect on the varied current of human 
life in different cases. In some, from the cradle to the 
grave, life has been beset with difficulties — it has been 
a continued struggle ; the breath seems to have been 
first drawn, and finally yielded up, amid the multifa- 
rious oppositions and agitations of adversity. In other 
instances, Life seems like an easy, smoothly gliding 
stream, gently bearing Man on to what had appeared 
to be the haven of his wishes, and the little voyage 
has been begun and completed without the appearance 
of a ripple. All varieties are no doubt the result of 
constantly operating laws. Of these, many are prob- 
ably inscrutable by us ; still more, perhaps, escape 
our observation. The unforeseen nature of many events 
confers the character of a mystery on any attempt at 
foresight ; yet, when we take a careful retrospect of a 
life, it is curious to observe how naturally the second- 
ary oauses appear to have produced the results by 


which they were followed, but which, beforehand, no 
one had thought of predicting. 

Varied, however, as is the course human life, few 
men have arrived at eminence without difficulty. We 
do not mean that conventional prominence of " posi- 
tion" which makes them marked in their day, but 
that which leaves the impression of their minds on 
the age in which they lived, or on the science t>r other 
pursuit which they had chosen — original minds, who 
have striven to enlarge the boundaries of our knowl- 
edge. Such men usually have the ample gifts of na- 
ture with which they are endowed somewhat counter- 
balanced by the difficulty experienced in the success- 
ful application of them. 

Abernethy had not been altogether exempt from 
such difficulties. With a sensitive organization, he 
had had to make his own way ; he experienced the 
difficulties which attend the advocacy of opinions and 
principles which were opposed to, or, at. all events, differ- 
ent from those generally entertained. He had had to 
encounter that misconstruction, misrepresentation, rid- 
icule, even malice, save the mark ! which is too fre- 
quently provoked by any attempts to tell people that 
there is something more correct than the notions which 
they have been accustomed to value. Still, when we 
compare Abernethy's course with that of many, we 
had almost said most, benefactors to science, he might 
be said to have been a fortunate man. If a man has 
power and a "place to stand on," and Abernethy had 
both, truth will tell at last. 

A retired spot in an obscure street near St. Barthol- 
omew's had been, by his almost unaided talents, ex- 
panded into a theatre within the walls of the Hospital. 


This was becoming again crowded; and although it 
formed a satisfactory arena for the development and 
illustration of his principles, the increasing audiences 
were significant of the coming necessity of a still larger 
building, and which, in fact, was a few years afterward 
constructed. He had, in fact, arrived, as we imagine, 
at a point which was comparatively smooth water, and 
which we are inclined to regard as the zenith of his 

In the opening of his beautiful lectures at the Col- 
lege, Abernethy, in one of his warm and earnest en- 
deavors to animate his audience to regard the love and 
the search for truth as the only impulse which could 
urge on and sustain industry in the " Science'' of our 
profession, had observed that, ;i unfortunately, a man 
might attain to a considerable share of public reputa- 
tion without being a real student of his profession." 
There have been, indeed, too many examples of that, 
as also of those who, after years of labor, have failed 
to attain a scanty living. 

Abernethy had been a real and laborious student in 
science, and he was now reaping an abundant and 
well-deserved fruition. Few surgeons have arrived at 
a position so calculated t<i satisfy the most exacting am- 
bition ; although the full extent and bearing of his prin- 
ciples were by no means universally understood, yet 
the general importance of them was so, and in some 
measure appreciated. In a greater or less degree, they 
were answering the tests afforded by the bed-side in 
all parts of the world. 

Ample, therefore, as the harvest he was reaping in 
a large practice, he was enjoying a still higher fruition 
in the kind of estimation in which he was held. He 


had a high reputation with the puhlic, one still higher 
among men of science. His crowded waiting-room 
was a satisfactory evidence of the one, and the man- 
ner in which his name was received here, on the 
Continent, or in America, a gratifying testimony of 
the other. He was regarded much more in the light 
of a man of enlarged mind as a medical philosopher, 
than merely as a distinguished surgeon. 

From the very small beginnings left by Mr. Pott, he 
had raised the school of St. Bartholomew's to an emi- 
nence never before attained by any school in this coun- 
try. I think I may say that, in its peculiar character, 
it was at that time (1816) unrivaled. 

Sir Astley Cooper was in great force and in high re- 
pute at this time, and combining as he did the schools 
of two large hospitals, had, I believe, even a larger 
class. Both schools, no doubt, endeavored to combine 
what is not, perhaps, very intelligibly conveyed by the 
terms practical and scientific; but the universal im- 
pression assigned the latter as the distinguishing ex- 
cellence of Mr. Abernethy, while the former was held 
to express more happily the characteristic of his emi- 
nent contemporary. 

Whatever school, however, a London student might 
have selected as his Alma Mater, it was very common 
for those whose purse, time, or plans permitted it, to 
attend one or more courses of Abernethy's lectures ; 
and it was pleasing to recognize the graceful conces- 
sion to Mr. Abernethy's peculiar excellence afforded by 
the attendance of some of Sir Astley's pupils, and his 
since distinguished relatives, at the lectures of Aber- 

As I have said, his practice was extensive, and of 


the most lucrative kind — that is, it consisted largely 
of consultations at home. Still, he had patients to 
visit, and as he was very remarkable for punctuality 
in all his appointments, was therefore not unfrequcnt- 
ly obliged to leave home before he had seen the whole 
of those who had applied to him. The extent of his 
practice was the more remarkable, as, however exag- 
gerated it might be, still there was a very general im- 
pression that his manners were unkind and repulsive. 
His pupils were enthusiastically fond of him, and it 
was difficult to know which was the dominant feel- 
ing, their admiration of his talents or their personal 

Some of the most distinguished men had been of 
their number, and it would be gratifying to us to enu- 
merate the very complimentary catalogue of eminent 
men who have been indebted for much of their emi- 
nence and success to the lessons of Abernethy ; but as, 
in so doing, we might possibly, in our ignorance, omit 
some names which ought to be recorded, we forego, 
therefore, this pleasure, lest we should unintentionally 
appear to neglect any professional brother whom we 
ought to remember. 

In 1812-13, the pupils had presented Mr. Abernethy 
with a piece of plate " as a testimony of their respect 
and gratitude.'' The arrangement of the matter was 
confided chiefly to the present Sir James Eyre, Mr. 
Stowe, of Buckingham, and Mr. William Bullen. In 
a very interesting letter with which I have been ta- 
vored by Mr. Stowe, among other matters hereafter to 
be mentioned, it is stated that the plate was delivered 
at Abernethy's house on the 1st of April ; and as he 
had no more entirely escaped such things than other 


medical men, he at first regarded it as a hoax ; but 
when the contents were exposed, and he discovered the 
truth, he became much affected. 

The regard of the pupils was always the thing near- 
est his heart. On meeting the class at the hospital, 
he essayed to express his feelings; but, finding that he 
should only break down, he adopted the same course 
as he had employed on another memorable occasion, and 
ivrole his acknowledgments, a copy of which was sus- 
pended against the wall of the theatre. 

It is due to our worthy and kind-hearted contempo- 
rary, Sir James Eyre, to add, that Mr. Stowe observes 
in his letter, that of all others, Sir James was the most 
zealous promoter of a movement so creditable to all 
parties. Some years after this, another subscription 
was commenced by the pupils for a portrait of Aber- 
nethy, which was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 
and engraved by Bromley. Sir Thomas, and the en- 
graver after him, have been most successful. He has 
caught one of Mr. Abernethy's most characteristic ex- 
pressions. We see him as he often stood when address- 
ing the anatomical class. In his surgical lecture he 
was generally seated. We think it impossible to com- 
bine more of him in one view. We fancy we see his 
acute penetration, his thoughtful expression, his arch- 
ness and humor, and his benevolence, all most happily 
delineated, while the general position and manner is 
eminently faithful. 

In 1815 he had been appointed surgeon to the hos- 
pital, after twenty-eight years' tenure of the assistant- 
surgeoncy ; a subject that we merely mention now, as 
we shall be obliged to revert to it when we consider 
the subject of the "Hospital System." 


At the time to which we allude, lecturing had be- 
come so easy as to appear little move than amusement 
to him, yet there were (we speak of about 1816) no 
signs of neglect or forgetfulness. His own interest in 
the subject was sustained throughout ; but, as his un- 
rivaled lecturing will be more fully described, we must 
not anticipate. Few old pupils visited London with- 
out contriving to get to the hospital at lecture-time. 
The drudgery of the early morning anatomical demon- 
stration was taken off his hands by Mr. Stanley, who 
performed his task with credit to himself and with ad- 
vantage to the pupils. 

Every morning, punctually at nine o'clock, would Mr. 
Stanley, in an amusingly declamatory tone, shout forth 
the dry but necessary truths of descriptive anatomy. 
His delivery was accompanied with not a little of met- 
ropolitan peculiarity, numerous facial gesticulations, 
and with occasional solemnities of tone which assorted 
oddly with the homely subject of the course of an artery. 
But this excited no satire ; it was always received with 
smiles and good-nature, and gave room for a little fun, 
which served to light up the foggy mornings of a Lon- 
don winter, and the occasionally not very lively details 
of an anatomical demonstration. 

If the style was faulty, the duty was well done. The 
endless, but perhaps necessary repetitions, impressed 
the facts; a subordinate but important branch of the 
school was well supplied, and Mr. Stanley had a nu- 
merous and attentive class. Abernethy, at this time, 
in addition to a successful school, a large and attached 
class, a solid and world-wide reputation, was receiving 
numerous proofs that his principles were recognized ; 
that, however imperfectly adopted, they were gaining 
"l 2 


ground; and that, if all his suggestions were not uni- 
versally admitted, they were becoming axiomatic with 
some of the first surgeons, both in this and other coun- 

He had not, we think, as yet sustained the loss of 
any member of his family, nor hardly experienced any 
of those ordinary crosses from which few men's lives 
are free, and that sooner or later seldom fail to strew 
our paths with enough to convince us that perfect peace 
can not be auspiciously sought in the conduct of human 
affairs. He was soon, however, to receive an impres- 
sion of a painful nature, and from a quarter whence, 
whatever might have been his experience, he certainly 
little expected it. Long accustomed to be listened to 
by admiring and assenting audiences, whether in the 
theatre of the hospital, or in those clusters of pupils 
which never failed to crowd around him whenever he 
had any thing to say, he was now to have some of his 
opinions disputed, his mode of advocating them im- 
pugned, his views of "Life" made the subject of ridi- 
cule, and even his fair dealing in argument called in 
question. All this, too, by no stranger — no person 
known only to him as one of the public, but by one 
who had been his pupil, whose talents he had helped 
to mature and develop, whose progress and prospects in 
life he had fostered and improved, and to whom, as was 
affirmed by the one and attested by the other, he had 
been a constant friend. 

That this controversy was the source of much suffer- 
ing to Abernethy, we are compelled to believe ; and it 
is altogether to us so disagreeable and difficult a sub- 
ject, that we should have preferred confining ourselves 
to a bare mention of it, and a reference to the works 


wherein the. details might he found. It is, however, 
too important an episode in the life of Ahernethy to be 
so passed over ; it suggests many interesting reflec- 
tions ; it exhibits Abernethy in a new phase ; illustrates, 
under very trying circumstances, the 

•' Virtus repulsae nescia 
Intaimnatis fulget hononbus ;" 

and brings out, in stronger relief than any other trans- 
action of his life, the best and most distinctive traits 
of his character (benevolence and Christian feeling), 
under temptations which have too frequently disturb- 
ed the one and destroyed the other. 


" Opinionum eonimenta delet dies, naturae judicia confirmat." — 

" Time, which obliterates the fictions of opinion, confirms the de- 
cisions of nature." 

Whoever has wandered to the south side of Lin- 
coln's Inn Fields will have found himself in one of the 
'•solitudes of London"' — one of those places which, in- 
terspersed here and there amid the busy current that 
rushes along every street and alley, seems quite out of 
the human-life-tide, and furnishes a serene spot, a dead 
calm in the midst of tumult and agitation. Here a 
lawyer may con over a "glorious uncertainty," a sur- 
geon a difficult case, a mathematician the general doc- 
trine of probability, or the Chevalier d'Industrie the 
particular case of the habitat of his next dinner ; but, 
unless yon have some such need of abstraction from 
the world, these places are heart-sinkingly dull. You 


see few people ; perhaps there may he a sallow-look- 
ing gentleman, in a black coat, with a handful of pa- 
pers, rushing into " chambers," or a somewhat more 
rubicund one in blue walking seriously out; the very 
stones are remarkably round and salient, as if from 
want rather than from excess of friction. The atmos- 
phere from the distance comes charged with the half- 
spent, booming hum of population. 

Immediately around you, all is comparatively silent. 

If you are in a carriage, it seems every moment to 
come in contact with fresh surfaces, and '? beats a roll" 
of continued vibrations; or, if a carriage happen to pass 
you, it seems to make move noise than half a dozen 
vehicles any where else. You may observe a long fa- 
cade of irregular elevations — upright parallelograms 
called habitable houses — but, for aught you see, half 
of them may have been deserted ; the dull sameness 
of the facade is broken only by half a dozen Ionic col- 
umns, which, notwithstanding their number, seem very 
serious and very solitary. You may perhaps imagine 
that they bear a somewhat equivocal relation to the 
large house before which they stand ; you may fancy 
them to be architectural relics, inconveniently large 
for admission to some depository within, or that they 
are intended as a sort of respectable garniture to the 
very plain house which they partly serve to conceal or 
embellish ; or quiz them as you please, for architects 
can not do every thing, nor at once convert a very ugly 
house into a very beautiful temple. 

But stop there ! for temple it is, ay, perhaps, as hu- 
man temples always are, not altogether unprofaned ; 
hut not so desecrated, we trust, but that it may yet 
contain the elements of its own purification. It en- 


shrines, reader, a gem of great value, which nothing 
extrinsic can improve, which no mere art can embel- 
lish — a treasure gathered from the ample fields of Na- 
ture, and which can be enriched or adorned only from 
the same exhaustless store. Though humble, indeed, 
the tenement, yet. were it humbler still, though it were 
composed of reeds and covered in with straw, it would 
remain hallowed to science. 

It holds the monument of the untiring labor of a 
great master, the rich garnerings of a single mind — 
the record, alas! but of some of the obligations man- 
kind owe to the faithful pioneer of a science, which, 
however now partially merged in clouds and darkness, 
and obscured by error, still exhibits through the gloom 
enough to assert its lofty original, and to foster hopes 
of better times. 

The museum of John Hunter (for it is of that we 
write) is one of the greatest labors ever achieved by a 
single individual. To estimate that labor aright, to 
arrive at a correct notion of the man, the spectator 
should disregard the number of preparations — the mass 
of mechanical and manipulatory labor which is in- 
volved — the toil, in fact, of mere collection, and, look- 
ing through that, contemplate the thought which it 
records; the general nature of the plan: the manner 
in which the Argus-eyed author has assembled to- 
gether various processes in the vegetable creation ; how 
he has associated them with their nearest relations in 
the animal kingdom, and how he has traced the chain 
from link to link, from the more simple to the more 
compounded forms, so as to throw light on the laws 
dispensed to Man. The spectator should then think 
of the Hunterian portion of the museum as the ex- 


hausting harvest of half a life, blessed with no greatly- 
lengthened days — a museum, gathered not in peaceful 
.seasons of leisure, nor amid the ease of undiverted 
thought, but amid the interrupting agitations of a pop- 
ulous city, the persistent embarrassments of measured 
means, the multiform distractions of an arduous pro- 
fession, the still more serious interruptions of occa- 
sional indisposition, and, finally, amid annoyances from 
quarters whence he had every right to expect support 
and sympathy — annoyances which served no other pur- 
pose but to imbitter the tenure of life, and to hasten 
its termination. 

Our space will not allow us to dwell more on this 
subject, or the museum just now. But where is our 
excellent conservator — where is Mr. Clift, the assistant, 
the friend, and young companion of John Hunter? He, 
too, is gathered to his rest. He, on whose countenance 
benevolence had impressed a life-long smile; he who 
used to tell us, as boys, so much of all he knew, and to 
remind us, as men, how much we were in danger of 
forgetting, is now no more. How kind and communi- 
cative he was, how modest, and yet how full of infor- 
mation; how acceptably the cheerfulness of social feel- 
ings mantled over the staid gravity of science ; how 
fond of any little pleasant story to vary the round of 
conservative exposition; and then, if half a dozen of us 
were going round with him, the "conticuere omnes," 
when, with his characteristic prefatory shrug, he was 
about to speak of Hunter ! Then such a memory ! 
Why once, in a long, delightful chat, we were talking 
over the Lectures at the College, and he ran over the 
general objects of various courses, during a succession 
of years, with an accuracy which, if judged of by those 


which had fallen within our own recollection, might 
have suggested that he had carried a syllabus of each 
in his pocket. 

We had much to say of Mr. Clift; but, in these times 
of speed, there is hardly time for any thing; yet we 
think that many an old student, when he has lingered 
over the stately pile reared by John Hunter, may have 
paused, and felt his eyes moistened by the memory of 
William Clift. 

When Mr. Abernethy lectured at the College, there 
was no permanent professor, as is now the case — no 
Professor Owen, of whom we shall have to speak more 
in the sequel. Both the professorship of anatomy and 
surgery, and also that of comparative anatomy, were 
only held for a comparatively short time. 

It. is not very easy to state the principle on which the 
professors were selected. The privilege of addressing 
the seniors of the profession has never, any more than 
any other appointment in the profession, been the sub- 
ject of public competition ; nor, unless the council have 
had less penetration than we are disposed to give them 
credit for, has "special fitness'' been a very dominant 
principle. Considering the respectability and position 
of the gentlemen who have been selected, the Lectures 
at the College of Surgeons, under the arrangements we 
are recording, were certainly much less productive, as 
regards any improvement in science, than might have 
been reasonably expected. 

The vice of ''system" could not be always, however, 
corrected by the merits of the individual. One result, 
which too commonly arose out of it. was, that gentle- 
men were called on to address their seniors and contem- 
poraries for the first time, who had never before ad- 


dressed any but pupils. It would not, therefore, have 
been very wonderful if, among the other difficulties 
of lecturing, that most inconvenient one of all should 
have sometimes occurred, of having nothing to say. 

Mr. Abernethy was appointed in 1814, and had the 
rare success of conferring a lustre on the appointment, 
and the perhaps still more difficult task of sustaining, 
before his seniors and contemporaries, that unrivaled 
reputation as a lecturer which he had previously ac- 
quired. As Mr. Abernethy had been all his life teach- 
ing a more scientific surgery, which he believed to be 
founded on principles legitimately deducible from facts 
developed by Hunter, so every circumstance of time, 
place, and inclination disposed him to bring Mr. Hun- 
ter's views and opinions under the review of the audi- 
ence at the College, composed of his seniors, his contem- 
poraries, and of pupils from the different schools. He 
was, we believe, equally desirous of disseminating them 
among the one class, as of having them considered by 
the others. At this time, no lectures of Mr. Hunter 
had been published ; and Mr. Abernethy thought that, 
to understand Hunter's opinions of the actions of liv- 
ing bodies, it was expedient that people should have 
some notion of what Mr. Hunter considered to be the 
general nature of — "Life." 

We hold this point to be very important; for all ex- 
perience shows that speculation on the abstract nature 
of things is, to the last degree, unprofitable. Nothing 
is so clear in all sciences as that the proper study of 
mankind is the Laws by which they are governed. 
Yet we can not, in any science, proceed without some- 
thing to give an intelligible expression to our ideas, 
which something is essentially hypothetical. 


If, for example, we speak of light, we can hardly ex- 
press our ideas without first supposing of light that it 
is some subtle substance sent off from luminous bod- 
ies, or that it consists in undulations, as we adopt the 
corpuscular or undulatory theory. It would be easy 
to form a third, somewhat different from either, and 
yet to pretend to no more than to give a still more in- 
telligible expression to phenomena. 

Now this is, as it appears to us, just what Mr. Aber- 
nethy did. lie did not speculate on the nature of life 
for any other reason than to give a more intelligible 
expression to Mr. Hunter's other views. At that time 
there was nothing published showing that Mr. Hun- 
ter's ideas of life were what Mr. Abernethy represented 
them to be; they might have been remembered by men 
of his own age, but this was not very good for contro- 
versy; and as that was made a point of attack,* it is 
well that the since collected "Life and Lectures of 
John Hunter," by Mr. Palmer, have given us a written 
authority for the accuracy of Abernethy's represent- 

In theorizing on the cause of the phenomena of liv- 
ing bodies, men have, at different times, arrived at va- 
rious opinions ; but, although not so understood, it 
seems to us that they all merge into two — the one 
which supposes Life to be the result of organization, 
or the arrangement of matter ; the other, that the or- 
ganization given, Life, is something superadded to it, 
just as electricity or magnetism to the bodies with 
which these forces may be connected. The latter was 

* " For this Hunterian Theory of Life, which its real author so 
stoutly maintains, &c, is nowhere to be found in the published writ- 
ings of Mr. Hunter." — See Lawrence's Two Lectures (Notes). 


the opinion which Mr. Abernethy advocated as that 
held by Mr. Hunter, and which he honestly entertain- 
ed as most intelligibly and rationally, in his view, ex- 
plaining the phenomena. 

That this was Mr. Hunter's view, a few passages 
from the work, as published by Mr. Palmer, will show. 
" Animal and vegetable substances," says Mr. Hunter, 
" differ from common matter in having a power super- 
added totally different from any other known property 
of matter, nut of which various new properties arise."* 
So much for a general view. Next, a reference to 
particular powers : " Actions in animal bodies have 
been so much considered under a chemical and me- 
chanical philosophy, that physiologists have entirely 
lost sight of Life ;" again showing how correctly Aber- 
nethy had interpreted Hunter's notion of the necessary 
" Key," as Abernethy phrased it, to his views ; Hunter 
says : " For unless we consider Life as the immediate 
cause of attraction occurring in animals and vegetables, 
we can have no just conception of animal and vege- 
table matter."t Mr. Hunter, in relation to the idea 
of life being the result of organization, shows how 
faithful an exposition Abernethy had given of his views. 
"It appears," says he, " that the Living Principle can 
not arise from the peculiar modification of matter, be- 
cause the same modification exists where this principle 
is no more." — Vol. i., p. 221; and in the same page: 
" Life, then, appears to be something superadded to 
this peculiar modification of matter." 

Then as to one of the illustrations employed by 
Abernethy. Hunter, after saying that he is aware that 
it is difficult to conceive this superaddition, adds : 

* Vol. i., p. 214, note. + Vol. xvi., p. 217. 


" But to show that matter may take on new properties 
without being altered itself as to the species of matter, 
it may not be improper to illustrate this. Perhaps 
magnetism affords the best illustration. A bar of iron, 
without magnetism, may be considered as animal mat- 
ter without life. With magnetism, it acquires new 
properties of attraction and repulsion," &c. 

Mr. Abernetby, as we have said, advocated similar 
views, and, we repeat, founded his reason for so doing 
on what he conceived to be the necessity of explaining 
Mr. Hunter's ideas of life before he could render his 
(Hunter's) explanation of the various phenomena in- 
telligible. In all of this he certainly was expressing 
Mr. Hunter's own views, with that talent for ornament- 
ing and illustrating every thing he discussed for which 
he was so remarkable. 

Abernethy multiplied the illustrations by showing 
the various analogies which seemed to him to be pre- 
sented in the velocity, the chemical, and other powers 
of Life and Electricity ; and with especial reference to 
the extraordinary discoveries of Sir Humphrey Davy, 
added such illustrations as more recent achievements 
in chemical science had placed within his grasp; and 
thence concluding it as evident that some subtle, mo- 
bile, invisible substance seemed to pervade all nature, 
so it was not unreasonable to suppose that some simi- 
lar substance or power pervaded animal bodies. He 
guarded himself, however, both in his first, and again 
in his second course of Lectures, from being supposed 
to identify Life with electricity, in a long paragraph 
especially devoted to that object. In his second course, 
in 1815, he proceeded to enumerate John Hunter's va- 
rious labors and contributions to science, as shown by 


the museum, in which he gave very great, interest to 
every subject, and in so popular a form, that we won- 
der now, when (as wo rejoice to see) there are some 
small beginnings of a popularization of physiology, 
that there is not a cheap reprint of them. 

"With regard to the object in view, we can not see 
how, as a faithful interpreter of John Hunter, Aber- 
nethy could have done less; and if any theory of life 
at all is to be adopted as necessary to give an intelli- 
gible expression to phenomena, one can hardly quarrel 
with that which takes the phenomena of life on the 
one hand, and those of death on the other, as the means 
of expressing our ideas. When we see a man dead 
whom we had contemplated alive, it certainly seems 
that something has left him; and whether we say 
"something superadded," the "breath'' or "Life," or 
by whatever term we call it, we appear really to ex- 
press, in as simple a form as possible, the facts before 
us. It seems to us that, after all, John Hunter did lit- 
tle more, for the illustration or similitude by which we 
endeavor to render an idea clear has in strictness noth- 
ing necessarily to do with the idea itself, any more 
than an analogy, however real the likeness, or a paral- 
lelism, however close, represents identity. 

We should have thought it, therefore, of all things 
in the world, the least likely that any theory of Hun- 
ter's should have disturbed the harmony which ought 
to exist between men engaged in scientific inquiries. 
It shows, however, the value of confining ourselves to 
phenomena, and the conclusions deducible from them, 
as strictly as possible. Nothing could possibly be more 
philosophical than the terms in which Mr. Abernethy 
undertook to advocate Mr. Hunter's views of life. His 


definitions of hypothesis, the conditions on which he 
founded its legitimate character, themodesty with which 
he applies it, and the clearness with which he states 
how easily our best-grounded suppositions may he sub- 
verted by new facts, are very lucid and beautiful, and 
give a tone to the Lectures, the very last calculated, 
as we should have thought, to have led to the conse- 
quences which followed. 


" Oft expectation fails, and most oft there 
Where most it promises." 

All's Well that Ends Well. 

No man, perhaps, ever made a happier application 
of a Divine precept to the conduct of human pursuits 
than Lord Bacon, when he said that the kingdom of 
man founded in the sciences must be entered like the 
kingdom of God — that is, as a little child. 

Independently of the sublimity of the comparison, it 
is no less remarkable for its practical excellence. 

How many broken friendships, enmities, and heart- 
burnings might have been prevented, had even a very 
moderate degree of the frame of mind, here so beauti- 
fully typified, been allowed to preside over human la- 
bor ! How charitably should we have been led to judge 
of the works of others! how measured the approbation 
of the most successful of our own ! No doubt in the 
pursuit of truth there is great difficulty in command- 
ing that combination of fearlessness toward the world, 
and that reverential humility toward the subject, both 
of which are alike necessary, although the one may be 


more essential to the discovery of truth, the other to 
the enunciation of it. 

To pursue truth regardless of the multiform errors 
and conventionalisms amid which experience has gen- 
erally shown almost all subjects to have been involved, 
unmindful of the rebukes and obloquy by which too 
often the best conducted investigations are opposed and 
assailed, and yet to let no angry passion stir, no con- 
viction that we are right engender an improper idea 
of our own superiority, or a disregard for the claims of 
others — this overcoming of the world, we had almost 
said, is intensely difficult, for it is, in fact, overcoming 
ourselves ; yet we dare not say it is that of which hu- 
man nature is incapable, for there is nothing that the 
heart suggests as morally right which is really impos- 
sible to us, and instances have not been wanting of 
the combination of the greatest knowledge with the 
most sincere humility. 

On the other hand, it must be admitted that if there 
were any thing especially calculated to bring down the 
cultivators of science and literature to the level of those 
who are regardless of the claims or insensible to the 
attractions of either, we could hardly find a series of 
facts more fatally influential than are furnished by the 
disputes of men who have been employed in the culti- 
vation of these elevating studies. Powerful intellects 
in teaching the comparative nothingness of man's knowl- 
edge seem to give great assistance in the acquisition of 
humility; but how few are the intellects of such pow- 
er ? The contemplation of nature, however, may, we 
conceive, infuse feelings of humility which can rarely 
be attained by the efforts of intellect alone. 

We have seen in Lord Bacon that the highest pow- 


era of intellect afforded for a while no security against 
the subtle, but one would have thought feeble, sug- 
gestions of a degrading cupidity. We all know, in lit- 
erature, how much the fruits of intellect depend on the 
dominant feeling under which they are reared and nour- 
ished. Even men like Pope and Addison, who had little 
in common but that which should elevate and adorn 
human nature, were so dragged down by the demon of 
controversy, that, commencing with little more than the 
irritability of poets, they ceased only when they had 
forgotten even the language of gentlemen. In the 
controversy in question, Mr. Abernethy's position was 
a very difficult one, and one which shows how easily a 
man with the best intentions may find himself engaged 
in a discussion which he never contemplated ; be wound- 
ed on points on which he was most sensitive, and yet 
defend himself with dignity, and without compromise 
of any of those principles which should guide a gentle- 
man and a Christian. 

Mr. Lawrence was appointed Professor of Compara- 
tive Anatomy in 1816, and we know that Mr. Abernethy 
hailed his appointment with considerable interest. He 
was regarded as a gentleman of some promise, and had 
already, if we mistake not, distinguished himself by a 
singularly nice, level style of composition, as well as 
by careful compilation. 

Nothing could seem more auspicious than such a 
prospect. Mr. Abernethy was a man remarkable for 
the original view he took of most subjects — a vast ex- 
perience gathered from various sources by a mind com- 
bining vividly perceptive powers with great capacity 
for reflection, a conformation well adapted for opening 
out new paths and extending the boundaries of science. 


Abemethy was now to be associated with a colleague 
who had already manifested no ordinary talent for the 
graceful and judicious exposition ofwhatz^as already 

Nothing could have seemed more promising ; nor was 
there any thing in the opening of Mr. Lawrence's first 
Lecture which seemed calculated to baulk these ex- 
pectations. His exordium contained an appropriate 
recognition of Mr. Abemethy, which, as we should only 
mar by extract, we give entire. Having referred to the 
circumstances which immediately preceded his appoint- 
ment, Mr. Lawrence thus proceeds: 

" To your feelings I must trust for an excuse, if any 
be thought necessary, for taking the earliest opportu- 
nity of giving utterance to the sentiments of respect 
and gratitude I entertain for the latter gentleman (Mr. 
Abemethy). You and the public know and have long 
known his acute mind, his peculiar talent for observa- 
tion, his zeal for the advancement of surgery, and his 
successful exertions in improving the scientific knowl- 
edge and treatment of disease ; his singular happiness 
in developing and teaching to others the original and 
philosophic views which he naturally takes of all sub- 
jects that come under his examination, and the suc- 
cess with which he communicates that enthusiasm in 
the cause of science and humanity which is so warm- 
ly felt by himself; the admirable skill with which he 
enlivens the dry details of elementary instruction 
are most gratefully acknowledged by his numerous 

"All these sources of excellence have been repeat- 
edly felt in this theatre. Having the good fortune to 
be initiated in the profession by Mr. Abemethy, and to 


have lived for many years under his roof, I can assure 
you with the greatest sincerity, that, however highly 
the public may estimate the surgeon and philosopher, 
I have reason to speak still more highly of the man 
and the friend, of the invariable kindness which di- 
rected my early studies and pursuits, and the disinter- 
ested friendship which has assisted every step of my 
progress in life, the independent spirit and the liberal 
conduct which, while they dignify the profession, win 
our love, command our respect for genius and knowl- 
edge, converting these precious gifts into instruments 
of the most extensive public good."* 

This graceful exordium, so appropriate to the mu- 
tual relations of Mr. Abernethy and Mr. Lawrence, de- 
riving, too, a peculiar interest from the circumstances 
under which it was delivered, had also the rare merit 
of a eulogium marked by a comprehensive fidelity. 
There is nothing fulsome or overstrained; Mr. Aber- 
nethy's well-known excellences were touchingly ad- 
verted to as matters with which all were in common 
familiar, while the necessarily more special facts of his 
social excellences were judiciously brought out in just 
relief, and, as an appropriate climax, by one who ap- 
peared animated by a grateful and personal experience 
of them. It is distressing to think that any thing 
should have followed otherwise than in harmony with 
that kindness and benevolence which, while it forms 
the most auspicious tone for the calm pursuits of phi- 
losophy, confers on them the purifying spirit of prac- 
tical Christianity. 

Mr. Lawrence's first Lecture consisted mainly of an 

* March, 1816. Introductory Lecture to Comp. Anatomy, publish- 
ed July. 



able and interesting expose of the objects and advant- 
ages of Comparative Anatomy to the physiologist, pa- 
thologist, medical man, and the theologian, together 
with numerous references to those authors to whom 
the science was most indebted. The second Lecture 
was devoted to the consideration and the discussion of 
various views which had been entertained of the liv- 
ing principle, or by whatever name we may designate 
that, force which is the immediate cause of the phe- 
nomena of Living Bodies. 

Among others, those entertained by Mr. Hunter and 
advocated by Mr. Abernethy were referred to, but in a 
tone which was not, perhaps, best suited to promote 
calm discussion, and which we may be allowed to say 
was unfortunate — a tone of ridicule and banter which 
was hardly suited either to the subject, the place, nor 
the distinguished men to whom it related ; to say the 
least of it, it was very unnecessary. We do not quote 
these passages, because they are, we think, not neces- 
sary to the narrative, and could, we think, now give 
no pleasure to any party.* 

In Mr. Abernethy's next Lectures at the College, he 
still advocated the rational nature of Mr. Hunter's 
views on Life, and in a most interesting exposition of 
the Gallery of the Museum, opposed at every opportu- 
nity the views of certain French physiologists which 
Mr. Lawrence had adopted. 

He did this, however, without naming Mr. Law- 
rence, and applied his remarks to the whole of those 
who had advocated the opinions that Life was the re- 
sult of organization as a "Band of modern skeptics." 

* Introduction to Comp. Anatomy, by W. Lawrence, F.R.S. Lon- 
don, 1816. 


Mr. Abernethy had, as he says, argued against a 
party, and studiously kept Mr. Lawrence, as an indi- 
vidual, out of view. He, however, argued roundly 
against the views advocated by him, and endeavored to 
show that those of Mr. Hunter, besides being at least a 
philosophical explanation of the phenomena, had a good 
moral tendency, although he admitted that the belief 
that man was a mere machine did not alter establish- 
ed notions, and that there were many good skeptics; 
still, he thought that the " belief of the distinct and in- 
dependent mind incited people to act rightly," &c. 

In regard to the general influence of the state of 
France, he says, "Most people think and act with a 
party;" and "that in France, where the writings of 
the philosophers and wits had greatly tended to de- 
moralize the people, he was not surprised that their 
anatomists and physiologists should represent the sub- 
ject of their studies in a manner conformable to what 
is esteemed most philosophical and clever; but that in 
this country the mere opinions of some French anato- 
mists with respect to the nature of life should be extract- 
ed from their general writings, translated, and extolled, 
can not but excite surprise and indignation in any one 
apprized of their pernicious tendency." There is no 
doubt that there was at the time in this country a dis- 
position in many people to disseminate very many opin- 
ions on various subjects different from those usually 
entertained, and we believe that this disposition was 
very greatly increased by the well-intentioned, no 
doubt, but, in our view, injudicious means employed 
for the suppression of them. 

We think it important to remember this, because, 
in estimating fairly any books or lectures, we must 


regard the spirit of the time in which they were deliv- 
ered — what would be judicious or necessary at one 
period, being of course obsolete or unnecessary at an- 

In relation to the opinions of the nature of life, that 
which Mr. Abernethy alleged that he intended to apply 
to a party, Mr. Lawrence alleged that he held as per- 
sonally applying to himself. Accordingly, the follow- 
ing course of Mr. Lawrence's Lectures commenced with 
" A Reply to the ' Charges' of Mr. Abernethy." This 
Lecture, which it is impossible for any man, mindful 
of all the circumstances, to peruse without pain (espe- 
cially if we include the notes), is couched in language 
of the most vituperative and contemptuous character ; 
sarcasm, ridicule, imputation of corrupt motives by 
turn, are weapons wielded with the appearance of the 
most unrelenting virulence. 

Those of the audience who had heard the graceful 
exordium, which we have quoted, to the first course of 
Lectures, and which so appropriately represented a 
just tribute to a great master and kind friend from a 
distinguished and favored pupil, were now to listen to 
a discourse which was so charged with various shades 
and descriptions of ridicule and invective as scarcely 
to be paralleled in the whole history of literary or sci- 
entific controversy. We have recently again perused 
the respective Lectures, and we are utterly at a loss 
to understand how the most sensitive mind could have 
found any thing in Mr. Abernethy's Lectures to call 
for such a "Reply." As it appears to us, its very vir- 
ulence was calculated to weaken its force, and to enlist 
the sympathies of people on the opposite side. We 
again forbear quotation. All we have to do is to show 


that circumstances of very unusual provocation, such 
as no man living could help feeling most deeply, and 
which bore on one who was acutely sensitive, never 
materially disturbed the native benevolence of Aber- 
nethy's disposition. 

The dispute, however, soon merged into matters 
which the public regarded as more important. Mr. 
Lawrence, in the Lectures which followed, took occa- 
sion to make some remarks on the Scriptures which 
gave great offense, and led other writers to engage in 
a controversy of a theological rather than a physiolog- 
ical character. This, however, rather belongs to the 
writings and opinions of Mr. Lawrence than the life of 
Abernethy. We will at once offer the very few observ- 
ations which we alone think it necessary to make, ei- 
ther in justice to Mr. Abernethy or the profession. 


" Love all, trust a few, 
Do wrong to none ; be able for thine enemy 
Rather in power than use ; and keep thy friend 
Under thine own Life's key ; be check'd for silence, 
But never tax'd for speech. What Heaven more will, 
That thee may furnish, and my prayers pluck down, 

Fall on thy head!" 

All's Well that Ends Well. 

In reviewing the facts of the foregoing controversy, 
we are anxious to restrict our remarks to such points 
as fall within the proper scope of our present object. 
These appear to us to relate to the mode in which Mr. 
Abernethy conducted his argument, as being legitimate 
or otherwise ; secondly, the influence the whole affair 


had in developing one of the most important features 
in his character ; and, lastly, the impression it pro- 
duced, for good or evil, on the public mind, in relation 
to our profession. 

We would observe, in the first place, that the diffi- 
culty of Mr. Abernethy's position was very painful and 
peculiar. We are not learned in controversy, but we 
should imagine that position to have been almost with- 
out parallel. Mr. Lawrence had been his pupil. As 
we have seen, Mr. Abernethy had been his patron and 
his friend, and, moreover, he had been not a little in- 
strumental in placing Mr. Lawrence in the Professor's 
chair. This instrumentality could not have been mere- 
ly passive, Mr. Abernethy himself was not a senior 
of the Council at that time ; at all events, he was as- 
sociated at the College with men much older than him- 
self, and must have owed any influence in the appoint- 
ment to an active expression of his wishes, supported 
by that attention to them which, though not necessa- 
rily connected with his standing at the College, was 
readily enough, no doubt, conceded to his talents and 
his reputation. His singleness of mind in this busi- 
ness was the more amiable, because, had he been dis- 
posed to be inactive, there were not wanting circum- 
stances which might not unnaturally have induced 
some hesitation on the subject. In the postscript at the 
end of Mr. Abernethy's published Lectures delivered 
at the College, we learn that, " From an early period 
of his studies, Mr. Lawrence had been accustomed to 
decry and scoff at what I taught as Mr. Hunter's opin- 
ions respecting life and its functions ; yet," he adds, 
" as I never could find that he had any good reason for 
his conduct, I continued to teach them in the midst 


of the controversy, and derision of such students as had 
become his proselytes," &c. 

This could hardly have been very agreeable. The 
pupils were wont to discuss most subjects in their gos- 
sips in the Square of the hospital or elsewhere, and 
many a careless hour has not been unprofitably so em- 
ployed. On such occasions, those who were so inclined 
would no doubt use ridicule or any other weapon that 
suited their purpose ; and so long as any reasonable 
limits were observed, Mr. Abernethy was the last per- 
son likely to take notice of any thing which might 
have reached him on the subject. On the contrary, it 
was his excellence and his often-expressed wish that 
we should canvass every subject for ourselves, and he 
would enforce the sincerity of his recommendation by 
advising us with an often-repeated quotation, 

" Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri." 

Still, we can not conceive that the desultory discussions 
at the Hospital, of which he might from time to time 
have accidentally heard, could have prepared him to 
expect that a similar tone was to form any portion of 
the sustained compositions of Lectures to be delivered 
in Lincoln's Inn Fields. When, however, he found his 
opinions ridiculed there by his friend and pupil, what 
was to be done? Was he to enter into a direct per- 
sonal sort of controversy with his colleague in office at 
the College of Surgeons ? 

There was every thing in that course that was in- 
expedient and repulsive. Was he to be silent on opin- 
ions which he kneiv to have been Mr. Hunter's, and of 
the moral and scientific advantages of which he had a 
most matuyed conviction ? That would have been a 


compromise of his duty. It was a difficult dilemma 
— a real case of the 

" Incidit in ScyllanVqui vult vitare Charybdim." 

If he avoided one difficulty, he fell into another. He 
tried to take a middle course: he argued in support of 
the opinions he had enunciated, and aided these by ad- 
ditional illustrations ; and in contrasting them with 
those opinions which were opposed to him, he endeav- 
ored to avoid a personal allusion to individuals by ar- 
guing against a class which he termed the " band of 
modern skeptics." Even this was a little Charybdis, 
perhaps, because it had a sort of name-calling effect, 
while it was not at all essential thus to embody in any 
one phrase the persons who held opposite opinions. 

His position was intensely difficult. It should be 
recollected that Abernethy had always been a teacher 
of young men ; that he had always taught what he 
conceived to be principles of surgery deducible from 
those delivered by Hunter ; that he further believed 
that, to understand Hunter clearly, it was necessary 
to have a correct notion of the idea Mr. Hunter enter- 
tained of "Life;" and, lastly, that in all his Lectures, 
Abernethy had a constant tendency to consider, and a 
habit of frequent appeal to what, under different forms, 
might be regarded as the moral bearings of any sub- 
ject which might be under discussion. We readily 
admit that usually, in conducting scientific arguments, 
the alleged moral tendencies of this or that view are 
more acceptable when reserved to grace a conclusion 
than when employed to enforce an argument, yet we 
think that comparatively few persons would now think 
the discussion of any subject bearing on the physical 


nature of Man complete which omitted the very inti- 
mate and demonstrable relations which exist between 
the moral and the physical laws. 

The point, however, which we wish to impress is, 
that Mr. Abernethy, in pleading the moral bearings of 
his views by deductions of his own, was merely doing 
that which he had been in the habit of doing on most 
other questions — it was merely part of that plan on 
which, without the smallest approach at any attempt 
to intrude religious considerations inappropriately into 
the discussion of matters ordinarily regarded as secu- 
lar, he had always inculcated a straightforward, free- 
from-cant, do-as-you-would-be-done-by tone in his own 
Lectures. This, while it formed one of their bright- 
est ornaments, was just that without which all lectures 
must be held as defective which are addressed to 
young men about to enter an arduous and responsible 

Abernethy stated nothing as facts but which were 
demonstrably such; and with regard to any hypotheses 
which he employed in aid of explaining them, he ob- 
served those conditions which philosophers agree on as 
necessary, whether the hypotheses be adopted or other- 
wise. He did not do even this but for the very legit- 
imate object of explaining the views of the man on 
whose labors he was discoursing. 

When those views of Mr. Hunter, which had been 
thus set forth and illustrated, were attacked, he de- 
fended them with his characteristic ability ; and al- 
though we will not undertake to say that the defense 
contains no single passage that might not as well have 
been omitted, we are not aware that, from the begin- 
ning to the end, it contains a single paragraph that 
K 2 


does not fall fairly within the limits that the most strin- 
gent would prescribe to scientific discussion. 

The discussion of abstract principles is generally 
unprofitable. We think few things more clear than 
that we know not the intrinsic nature of any abstract 
principle; and although it would be presumptuous to 
say we never shall, yet we think it impossible for any 
reflecting student in any science to avoid perceiving 
that there are peculiar relations between the laics of 
nature and the human capacity which most emphat- 
ically suggest that the study of the one is the proper 
business and the prescribed limit to the power of the 

Still, the poverty of language is such as regards the 
expression of natural phenomena, that necessity has 
obliged us to clothe the forces in nature with some at- 
tribute sufficiently in conformity with our ideas to en- 
able us to give them an intelligible expression ; and 
whether we talk of luminous particles, ethereal undu- 
lations, electric or magnetic fluids, matter of heat, &c, 
we apprehend that no one now means more than to 
give an intellectually tangible expression of certain 
forces in nature of which he desires to discourse, or to 
teach the habitudes they observe, or the laws which 
they obey. This is all we think it necessary to say on 
the scientific conduct of the argument by Abernethy. 

The public have long since expressed their opinion 
on Mr. Lawrence's Reply and Lectures, and whatever 
may be regarded as their decision, we have no disposi- 
tion to canvass or disturb it. There was nothing won- 
derful, however unusual, in a young man so placed, 
in a professsion like ours, getting into a controversy 
with a man of such eminence as Abernethy, particular- 


ly on speculative subjects. There were in the present 
case, to be sure, very many objections to such a posi- 
tion ; but these it was Mr. Lawrence's province to con- 
sider. On this and many other points, we have as lit- 
tle inclination as we have right, perhaps, to state our 
opinion. Nevertheless, we must not omit a few words 
in recognition of Mr. Abernethy's efforts, and a few ob- 
servations on the conduct of the governing body of the 
College at that time. In the first place, we feel obliged 
to Mr. Abernethy for the defense he made on that occa- 
sion ; not from the importance of any abstract theory, 
but from the tendency that his whole tone had to incul- 
cate just views of the nature and character of the pro- 
fession. But we can by no means acquit the Council of 
the College, at the time of the said controversy, of what 
we must conceive to have been a great neglect of duty. 
There is, among a certain class of persons, an idea that 
the medical profession are skeptical on religious sub- 
jects, and many of these persons are people of whom 
it is impossible not to value the respect and good opin- 
ion. We never could trace any legitimate grounds 
for the conclusion. On inquiry, it has always appear- 
ed to be nothing more than a " vulgar error," resting, as 
" vulgar errors" generally do, on general conclusions 
drawn by people who have deduced them from insuf- 
ficient particulars. 

Sometimes the persons indulging in this idea have 
known a medical man whom they consider to be un- 
stable in his religious views ; another knows that Mr. 
A. or B. never goes to church ; sometimes even polit- 
ical differences have been held sufficient excuse for im- 
pugning the possessor of proper ideas on the all-import- 
ant subject of religion. We have never been able to 


procure any reasonable data on which they could, 
with any show of justice, support so serious an im- 
putation. For our parts, we know not how the nec- 
essary data are to be obtained, and therefore should 
shrink from any attempt at any thing so presump- 
tuous as to describe the religious character of any 

We have no means of obtaining the evidence neces- 
sary to support so serious and difficult a conclusion. 
The great bulk of our profession are general practition- 
ers, and in forming opinions in regard to any class of 
men, we naturally look to the greatest number. So 
far as our own experience has gone, we can not find 
the slightest ground for the degrading imputation. 
Like all other medical men, their labors are incessant, 
the hours of recreation few and far between. In their 
requisitions on their time, the public regard neither 
night nor day, nor the Sabbath, when they require at- 
tention. Then, if we look to conduct as no unreason- 
able test of religion, we may, like all other professions, 
have blots. We have, in all grades, no doubt, it may 
be, our fee-hunters and our long-billed practitioners ; 
but whether we regard the physician, surgeon, or gen- 
eral practitioner, we verily believe that there are no 
men in the kingdom who, as a body, conduct them- 
selves more honorably ; none who are less mercenary ; 
who, in relation to their position, are less affluent — no 
bad test — or who do one tenth of the work which they 
do without any remuneration whatever. 

With regard to the alleged absence from public wor- 
ship, there may be (however explicable) some ground 
for the remark, and especially as no profession shows, 
in the general respectability of their conduct, a more 


ready and respectful acquiescence in the established 
usages of mankind. 

But let the question be fairly stated. How many 
medical men can go to church every Sunday, and to 
the same church, without a compromise of a para- 
mount duty ? We are ready to concede that the ne- 
cessities which professional calls imperatively impose 
n so many occasions may have a tendency to form 
habits when impediments are less pressing, but is it 
not rather the exactions of the public than the choice 
of the profession which imposes the necessity? How 
many of the public would be satisfied, if they wished 
to see a professional man on any pressing occasion, and 
were told that he could not be seen for a couple of 
hours, as he was going to church? 

Highly as we venerate the benign and beautiful or- 
dinance of the Sabbath, important as we think it, nn 
all accounts, that it should be observed with reverence 
and gratitude, still we should hesitate before we re- 
garded the single act of attendance or absence on pub- 
lic worship a safe or charitable exposition of any man's 
religious stability. We therefore, as far as in us lies, 
repudiate the charge; we regard it as groundless; and 
think that, as no profession gives a more constant op- 
portunity of constant awakening and keeping alive the 
best sympathies of our nature, so no profession can be 
more calculated to impress the fragile nature of the 
body, as contrasted with the immortal spirit which in- 
habits it, or the constant presence of that Power by 
whose laws they are governed. But groundless as wo 
think the charge, we must contend that the apathy of 
the Council of the College, at the time Mr. Lawrence 
delivered the Lectures in question, was a serious neg- 


lect of duty. In the Lectures in question, Mr. Law- 
rence spoke of the Old Testament in a tone which 
must, we think, be regarded as irrelevant to, or at least 
unnecessary, in a Course of Lectures on Comparative 

We hold no sympathy with that sort of persecution 
with which several well-intentioned people visited the 
hook, but we must always regard the Council of the 
time as having been neglectful of their duty. Lec- 
tures on Comparative Anatomy do not render it neces- 
sary to impugn the historical correctness or the inspired 
character of the Old Testament. What answer could 
private individuals make, or with what influence could 
they oppose the prejudices of the public in relation to 
the religious securities afforded by them in whom they 
confide, when they saw a young man allowed to intro- 
duce matter in lectures given to an audience composed 
of the most aged and eminent of the profession, as well 
as of many of those who were just commencing their 
studies — delivered, too, at the chartered College of the 
profession — matter which was not only not at all neces- 
sary to the most ample exposition of the subject, but 
which, as we have said, only alluded to the Old Testa- 
ment in a manner calculated to weaken its authority 
as a historical document, and to impugn its inspired 
character ? 

Surely there was no more certain mode of giving an 
ex cathedra sanction to the unfavorable impressions of 
the public ; impressions which tend to tarnish the lus- 
tre of a profession which founds its claims to respect 
on its kindly ministrations and unquestioned utility, 
and to arm a vulgar and unfounded prejudice with all 
the influence of Collegiate recognition. If, indeed, the 


College had desired to support the alleged favorable 
tendency of Mr. Abernethy's views or the alleged oppo- 
site bearings of those to which he was opposed, they 
could hardly have done better than to have allowed of 
the irrelevant matter in question. But we have done. 
It is no part of our business to quote passages, or fur- 
ther to renew discussions long since passed away, than 
is necessary for our proper objects. But when we con- 
sider on how many points Abernethy must have been 
hurt, the very difficult and perplexing position in which 
he was placed, we can not too much admire the very 
measured tone he adopted throughout; or the evident- 
ly wounded feeling, but still dignified yet simple state- 
ment of the published Postscript to his Lectures ; and 
though there had been no subsequent exemplification 
of his forgiving temper — which was not the case — we 
should still have felt obliged to regard the whole affair 
as indicative of great goodness of heart; and when all 
the circumstances of disappointment and vexation are 
duly weighed, of almost unexampled moderation. 

It, is just to Mr. Lawrence to observe that, some few 
years after this, the Governors of Bethlehem Hospital, 
on the annual (and usually formal) election of the sur- 
geon, an otfice held by Mr. Lawrence, threw the ap- 
pointment open to competition, on which occasion Mr. 
Lawrence published a letter expressing regret, in gen- 
eral terms, as to certain passages in the Lectures in 
question, and his determination not to publish any more 
on similar subjects. The coincidence of this letter with 
the threatened tenure of office of course gave rise to the 
usual remarks ; but, if a man says he is sorry for a thing, 
perhaps it is better not to scan motives too closely. 
Mankind stand too much in need of what Burns sug- 


gests, and with which we close this not very agreeahle 


"Then gently scan your brother man, 
Still gentler sister woman ; 
Though they may gang a kennin wrang, 
To step aside is human." 


" And though they prove not, they confirm the cause, 
When what is taught agrees with Nature's laws." 

Dryden's Relio. Laici. 

prefatory remarks. 

In endeavoring to give some idea of Abernethy's 
manner in more sustained compositions, we have made 
some selections from the Lectures he delivered at the 
College of Surgeons. Without any pretensions to a 
critically faultless style, there always seemed to us to 
be a peculiar simplicity combined with a broad and 
comprehensive range of thought. Sometimes, too, he 
has almost a " curiosa felicitas" in the tone of his ex- 
pressions, though this was more remarkable, we think, 
when he felt more free — that is, in his unrivaled teach- 
ing at the Hospital, of which we shall endeavor to give 
a more particular account. As we have before remark- 
ed, it is impossible to do full justice to Abernethy un- 
less we were to publish his works with a running com- 
mentary, and we fear that in the selections we offer 
we have incurred a responsibility which we shall not 
properly fulfill. To convey the full, the suggestive 
merit of even some of the following passages, it would 
be necessary to state carefully the relation they bear 


to the state of science, both chemical and physiological, 
at the time they were written, and the present. 

The interest of the Lectures is so evenly distributed 
through the whole, that selection is very difficult; and 
being obliged to consider our limits, we have, in the 
absence of a better guide, selected the passages at. ran- 
dom, as suggested by our own impressions of them. 
We therefore can only earnestly recommend the peru- 
sal of the Lectures themselves as equally entertaining 
and instructive to the general as well as the profession- 
al reader. The varied expression and manner, and his 
fine intellectual countenance, by which he imparted so 
much interest to his delivery on every subject he 
touched, will be considered in connection with his sue* 
cess in the art of lecturing, and to which these some- 
what formal specimens may serve as an introduction. 


"When, therefore, we perceive in the universe at 
large a cause of rapid and powerful motions of masses 
of inert matter, may we not naturally conclude that 
the inert molecules of vegetable and animal matter 
may be made to move in a similar manner by a sim- 
ilar cause ?" 


" It is not meant that electricity is life. There are 
strong analogies between electricity and magnetism, 
and yet I do not know that any one has been hardy 
enough to assert their absolute identity.* I only mean 

* Oersted's experiments, which by some are regarded as identify- 
ing these powers, occurred in 1820, four or five years after the de- 
livery of this Lecture. 


to prove that Mr. Hunter's theory is verifiable, by show- 
ing that a subtile substance of a quickly, powerfully 
mobile nature seems to pervade every thing, and ap- 
pears to be the life of the world, and therefore it is 
probable that a similar substance pervades organized 
bodies, and produces similar effects in them. 

" The opinions which in former times were a justi- 
fiable hypothesis, seem to me now to be converted into 
a rational theory."* 


" This general and imperfect sketch of the anatomy 
of the nervous system relates only to what may be dis- 
covered by our unassisted sight. If, by means of the 
microscope, we endeavor to observe the ultimate nerv- 
ous fibres, persons in general are as much at a loss as 
when, by the same means, they attempt to trace the 
ultimate muscular fibres."! 


" Assuredly motion does not necessarily imply sen- 
sation ; it takes place where no one ever yet imagined 
there could be sensation. If I put on the table a basin 
containing a saturated solution of salt, and threw into 
it a single crystal, the act of crystalization would be- 
gin from the point touched, and rapidly and regularly 
pervade the liquor till it assumed a solid form. Yet I 
know I should incur your ridicule if I suggested the 
idea that the stimulus of salt had primarily excited 
the action, or that its extension was the effect of con- 
tinuous sympathy. If, also, I threw a spark among 
gunpowder, what would you think were I to represent 
* Anatom. Lect., i., p. 51. t Ibid., ii., p. 62. 


the explosion as a struggle resentful of injury, or the 
noise as the clamorous expression of pain?"* 


" Thus the odor of a cat, or the effluvia of mutton, 
the one imperceptible, the other grateful to the gener- 
ality of persons, has caused individuals to fall on the 
ground as though bereaved of life, or to have their 
whole frame agitated by convulsions. Substances 
which induce disease in one person or animal, do not 
induce disease in others."t 


"Thinking being inevitable, we ought, as I said, to 
be solicitous to think correctly. Opinions are equally 
the natural result of thought and the cause of conduct. 
If errors of thought terminated in opinions, they would 
be of less consequence; but a slight deviation from the 
line of rectitude in thought may lead to a most distant 
and disastrous aberration from that line in action. I 
own I can not readily believe any one who tells me he 
has formed no opinion on subjects which must have 
engaged and interested his attention. Persons both 
of skeptical and credulous characters form opinions, 
and we have, in general, some principal opinion, to 
which we connect the rest, and to which we make 
them subservient, and this has a great influence on all 
our conduct. Doubt and uncertainty are so fatiguing 
to the human mind, by keeping it in continual action, 
that it will and must rest somewhere; and if so, our 
inquiry ought to be where it may rest most securely 
* Anatom. Lect., ii., p. 84. t Ibid , ii., p. 85. 


and comfortably to itself, and with most advantage to 

"In the uncertainty of opinions, wisdom would 
counsel us to adopt those which have a tendency to 
produce beneficial actions." 


"If I may be allowed to express myself allegorical- 
ly with regard to our intellectual operations, I would 
say that the mind chooses for itself some little spot or 
district, where it erects a dwelling, which it furnishes 
and decorates with the various materials it collects. 
Of many apartments contained in it, there is one to 
which it is most partial, where it chiefly reposes, and 
where it sometimes indulges its visionary fancies. At 
the same time, it employs itself in cultivating the sur- 
rounding grounds, raising little articles for intellect- 
ual traffic with its neighbors, or perhaps some produce 
worthy to be deposited among the general stores of 
human knowledge. Thus my mind rests at peace in 
thinking on the subject of life as it has been taught 
by Mr. Hunter, and I am visionary enough to imagine 
that if these opinions should become so established as 
to be generally admitted by philosophers, that if they 
once saw reason to believe that life was something of 
an invisible and active nature superadded to organiza- 
tion, they would then see equal reason to believe that 
mind might be superadded to life as life is to struc- 
ture. They would then, indeed, still further perceive 
how mind and matter might reciprocally operate on 
each other by means of an intervening substance. 


Thus even would physiological researches enforce the 
belief which I say is natural to man, that in addition 
to his bodily frame he possesses a sensitive, intelligent, 
and independent mind — an opinion which tends in an 
eminent degree to produce virtuous, honorable, and 
and useful actions."* 



" No study can surely be so interesting as Physiolo- 
gy. While other sciences carry us abroad in search of 
objects, in this we are engaged at home, and on con- 
cerns highly important to us, in inquiring into the 
means by which ' we live, and move, and have our be- 
ing.' To those, however, engaged in the practice of 
Medicine, the study of Physiology is indispensable, for 
it is evident that the nature of the disordered actions 
of parts or organs can never be understood or judicious- 
ly counteracted, unless the nature of their healthy ac- 
tions be previously known. 

" The study of Physiology, however, not only re- 
quires that we should investigate the nature of the 
various vital processes carried on in our own bodies, 
but also that we should compare them with similar 
processes in all the varieties of living beings; not only 
that we should consider them in a state of natural and 
healthy action, but also under all the varying circum- 
stances of disorder and disease. Few, indeed, have stud- 
ied Physiology thus extensively, and none in an equal 
degree with Mr. Hunter. Whoever attentively peruses 
his writings must, I think, perceive that he draws his 
* Anatom. Lect., ii., p. 92. 


crowds of facts from such different and remote sources 
as to make it extremely difficult to assemble and ar- 
range them."* 


"Disorder, which is the effect of faulty actions of 
nerves, induces disease, which is the consequence of 
faulty actions of the vessels. There are some who find 
it difficult to understand how similar swellings or ul- 
cers may form in various parts of the body in conse- 
quence of general nervous disorder, and are all curable 
by appeasing and removing such general disorder. The 
fact is indisputable. Such persons are not so much 
surprised that general nervous disorder should produce 
local effects in the nervous and muscular systems, yet 
they can not so well understand how it should locally 
affect the vascular system. To me there appears noth- 
ing wonderful in such events, for the local affection is 
primarily nervous, and the vascular actions are conse- 
quent. Yet it must indeed be granted that there may 
be other circumstances leading to the peculiarities of 
local diseases with which, at present, we are unacquaint- 
ed. Disorder excites to disease, and, when important 
organs become in a degree diseased, they will still per- 
form their functions moderately well if disorder be re- 
lieved, which ought to be the Alpha and Omega of 
medical attention."i 

As we have seen in the early part of our narrative, 
he was one of the first to insist on the importance of 
Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, and, as we shall 

* Physiol. Lect., i., p. 3. 1817. 
t Introd. Lect., p. 117. 1815. 


have to relate, most active in securing what has proved 
so greatly influential to its progress in this country (the 
appointment of Professor Owen). Yet he modestly ig- 
nores any positive pretensions which might be imputed 
to him from his endeavor to illustrate a Museum deal- 
ing so largely with Comparative Anatomy. 

" Gratitude to the former of the Museum, and also 
to the donors of it, equally demand that its value and 
excellency should be publicly acknowledged and dis- 
played, which consideration has goaded me on to un- 
dertake and imperfectly to execute a task for which I 
feel myself not properly qualified." 

Here follows what is very candid in Abernethy and 
honorable to Mr. Clift, who had very many debtors who 
were less communicative. 

"I cordially acknowledge that I have little acquaint- 
ance with the subject except what I derived from look- 
ing over the preparations in the Museum, from reading 
Professor Cuvier's Lectures, and from the frank and 
friendly communications of our highly praiseworthy 
conservator, Mr. Clift. Permit me to say, gentlemen, 
though many know it already, that Mr. Clift resided 
with Mr. Hunter, and was taught by him to exhibit 
anatomical facts in preparations ; that he does credit 
to his excellent instructor ; that he feels the same in- 
terest and zeal that his patron did for the improvement 
of this dopartment of science ; and that he possesses 
the same candor and simplicity of character."* 

* Physiol. Lect, i., p. 14 



" I now beg leave to add that there are many who 
think clearly who do not think deeply; and they have 
greatly the advantage in expressing themselves, for 
their thoughts are generally simple and easy of appre- 
hension. Opinions immediately deduced from any se- 
ries or assemblage of facts may be called primary opin- 
ions, and they become types and representatives of the 
facts from which they are formed, and, like the facts 
themselves, admit of assortment, comparison, and influ- 
ence, so that from them we deduce ulterior opinions, 
till at length, by a kind of intellectual calculation, we 
obtain some general total, which, in like manner, be- 
comes the representative and coefficient of all our 
knowledge with relation to the subject examined and 

" In proportion to the pains we have taken in this 
algebraical process of the mind, and our assurance of 
its correctness, so do we contemplate the conclusion or 
consummation of our labors with satisfaction." 


" Gentlemen (of the jury), I trust I can prove to 
your perfect conviction, by ample and incontrovertible 
evidence, that my client (John Hunter) died seized and 
possessed of very considerable literary property, the 
hard-earned gainings of great talent and unparalleled 
industry. It is, not, however, for the property that I 
plead, because already that is secured ; it is fenced in; 
landmarks are set up ; it is registered in public docu- 
ments. I plead only for the restitution of a great and 
* Physiol. Lect , i., p. 26. 


accumulated income of reputation derivable from that 
property, which, I trust, you will perceive to be justly 
due, and will consequently award to my client and his 


" Believing that no man will labor in the strenuous 
and unremitting manner that Mr. Hunter did, and to 
the detriment of his own private interest, without some 
strong incentive, I have supposed that at an early pe- 
riod he conceived those notions of life which were con- 
firmed by his future inquiries and experiments. He 
bi^gan his observations on the incubated egg in the 
year 1755, which must either have suggested or cor- 
roborated all his opinions with regard to the cause of 
the vital phenomena. He perceived that, however dif- 
ferent in form and faculty, every creature was never- 
theless allied to himself because it was a living being, 
and therefore he became solicitous to inquire how the 
vital processes were carried on in all the varieties of 
animal and even vegetable existence." 


''In the progress of science, genius, with light and 
airy steps, often far precedes judgment, which proceeds 
slowly, and either finds or forms a road along which all 
may proceed with facility and security ; but the direc- 
tion of the course of judgment is often suggested, and 
its actions are excited and accelerated by the invoca- 
tions of preceding genius. "t 

* Physiol. Lect., i., p. 16 t Ibid , i., p. 19. 



"As Sir H. Davy's experiments fully prove that elec- 
tricity may be superadded to, and that it enters into 
the composition of all those substances we call matter, 
I felt satisfied with the establishment of the philosophy 
of Mr. Hunter's views, nor thought it necessary to pro- 
ceed further, but merely added, 'It is not meant to be 
affirmed that electricity is life.' I only mean to argue 
in favor of Mr. Hunter's theory by showing that a sub- 
tile substance of a quickly and powerfully mobile na-i 
ture seems to pervade every thing, and appears to be 
the life of the world, and that therefore it is probable 
a similar substance pervades organized bodies, and is 
the life of these bodies. I am concerned, yet obliged 
to detain you by this recapitulation, because my mean- 
ing has been either misunderstood or misrepresented."* 


" He (Mr. Hunter) told us that life was a great chem- 
ist, and, even in a seemingly quiescent state, had the 
power of resisting the operations of external chemical 
agency, and thereby preventing the decomposition of 
those bodies in which it resided. Thus seeds may lie 
buried far beneath the surface of the earth for a great 
length of time without decaying, but, being thrown up, 
they vegetate. Mr. Hunter showed us that this chem- 
ist, ' Life,' had the power of regulating the temperature 
of the substances in which it resides. "t 

* Physiol. Lect., i., p. 26. t Ibid., i., p. 27. 



"The progress of science since Mr. Hunter's time 
has wonderfully manifested that the beam, when dis- 
sected by a prism, is not only separable into seven cal- 
orific rays of different refrangibility, producing the ir- 
idescent spectrum, but also into calorific rays refract- 
ed in the greatest degree or intensity beyond the red 
color, and into rays not calorific, refracted, in like man- 
ner, to the opposite side of the spectrum beyond the 
violet color ; and that the calorific and uncalorilic rays 
produce effects similar to those occasioned by the two 
kinds of electricity, and thus afforded additional rea- 
sons for believing that subtile mobile substances do 
enter into the composition of all those bodies which the 
sun illumines or its beams can penetrate. 

"Late observations induce the belief that even light 
may be incorporated in a latent state with animal sub- 
stances, and afterward elicited by a kind of spontane- 
ous separation by vital actions, or by causes that seem 
to act mechanically on the substance in which it in- 
heres. All the late discoveries in science seem to real- 
ize the speculations of ancient philosophers, and show 
that all the changes and motions which occur in sur- 
rounding bodies, as well as those in which we live, are 
the effect of subtile and invisible principles existing in 
them or acting on them. Mr. Ellis, who, with such 
great industry and intelligence, has collated all the 
scattered evidences relative to the production of heat 
in living bodies, and added so much to the collected 
knowledge, seems to think that all the variations of 


temperature in them may be accounted for by known 
chemical processes. 

"Here, however, I must observe, that Mr. Hunter's 
opinion of life having the power of regulating temper- 
ature was deduced, not only from his own experiments, 
related in the ' Philosophical Transactions,' but also 
from observing that, in certain affections of the stom- 
ach, the heat of the body is subject to great vicissi- 
tudes, white respiration and circulation remain unal- 
tered ; and also that parts of the body are subject to 
similar variations, which appear inexplicable upon any 
other supposition than that of local nervous excite- 
ment, or torpor, or some similar affections of the vital 
powers of the part which undergoes such transitions."* 


"It is equally apparent that the belief of the dis- 
tinct and independent nature of mind incites us to act 
rightly from principle; to relieve distress, to repel ag- 
gression, and defend those who are incapable of pro- 
tecting themselves; to practice and extol whatever is 
virtuous, excellent, and honorable; to shun and con- 
demn whatever is vicious and base, regardless also of 
our own personal feelings and interests when put in 
competition with our duty."t 


" There is nothing in the assertions of Drs. Gall and 
Spurzheim contradictory to the results of general ob- 
servation and experience. It is admitted that the su- 
perior intellectual faculties can and ought to control 
* Physiol. Led., i., p. 37. t Ibid., i., p. 51. 


the inferior propensities. It is admitted that we pos- 
sess organs which, nevertheless, may be inactive from 
general torpor or want of education. General observ- 
ation and experience proclaim that susceptibility is the 
chief incentive to action ; that it is the source of gen- 
ius ; and that the character of the man greatly depends 
on his education and habits. We educate our facul- 
ties ; what is at first accomplished with difficulty, by 
repetition is easily performed, and becomes more per- 
fect and established by habit. Trains of perceptions 
and thoughts also become firmly concentrated, and oc- 
cur in succession. Even our feelings undergo the same 
kind of education and establishment. Casual feelings 
of good-will by repetition strengthen, and produce last- 
ing friendships, while trivial sensations of disgust, in 
like manner, may occasion inveterate hatred." 


" Should the result of our general inquiries, or at- 
tention to the subjects proposed to us by Drs. Gall and 
Spurzheim, induce us to believe that the peculiarities 
of our feelings and faculties were the effects of variety 
of excitement, transmitted through a diversity of or- 
ganization, they would tend to produce mutual forbear- 
ance and toleration. We should perceive how nearly 
impossible it must be that any persons should think 
and feel exactly alike upon any subject. We should 
not arrogantly pride ourselves on our own virtue and 
knowledge, nor condemn the errors and weakness of 
others, since they may depend upon causes which we 
can neither produce nor readily counteract. The path 
of virtue is plain and direct, and its object distinctly 
before us, so that no one can miss either who has res- 


olution enough never to lose sight of them hy advert- 
ing to advantages and allurements with which he may 
he presented on the one hand, or the menacings with 
which he may be assailed on the other. Yet no one, 
judging from his own feelings and powers, can be 
aware of the kind and degree of terrptation or terror, 
or the seeming incapacity to resist them, which may 
have induced others to deviate. Now though, from the 
foregoing considerations, I am pleased with the specu- 
lations of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim, I am quite incom- 
petent to give any opinion as to the probability of 
what they have suggested, because I see no mode by 
which we can with propriety admit or reject their as- 
sertions, except by pursuing the same course of inves- 
tigations which they themselves have followed — a task 
of great labor and difficulty, and one which, for vari- 
ous reasons, I should feel great repugnance to under- 

Abernethy used to like very well to talk with Spurz- 
beirn, who resided for some time in this country. One 
day Abernethy, half seriously, half humorously said to 
Spurzheim, " Well, Doctor, where do you place the or- 
gan of common sense?" Spurzheim's reply certainly 
sustained the coincidence of phrenological deductions 
with those of experience. " There is no organ," said 
he, " for common sense, but it depends on the equilib- 
rium of the other organs." 


" Therefore, from this least interesting part of anat- 
omy, we derive the strongest conviction of there being 
* Physiol. Lect., iii., p. 99. 


design and contrivance in the construction of animals. 
Equal evidences of design and contrivance, and of 
adaptation of means to ends, may be observed in the 
construction of the frame-work, as I may call it, of 
other animals, as in that of man, which subject seems 
to me very happily displayed in Professor Cuvier's Lec- 

" It was, however, the comparing the mechanism of 
the hand and foot that led Galen, who, they say, was 
a skeptic in his youth, to the public declaration of his 
opinion that intelligence must have operated in ordain- 
ing the laws by which living beings are constructed. 
That Galen was a man of a very superior intellect could 
he readily proved, were it necessary. I have often 
known the passage I allude to made a subject of ref- 
erence, but not of quotation, and therefore I recite it 
on the present occasion, and particularly because it 
shows that Galen was not in the least degree tinctured 
with superstition. ' In explaining these things,' he 
says, ' I esteem myself as composing a solemn hymn 
to the great Architect of our bodily frame, in which I 
think there is more true piety than in sacrificing whole 
hecatombs of oxen or in burning the most costly per- 
fumes ; for, first, I endeavor from His works to know 
Him myself, and afterward, by the same means, to 
show Him to others, to inform them how great is His 
wisdom, goodness, and power.' "t 


"Those bodies which we call living are chiefly char- 
acterized by their powers of converting surrounding 
substances into their own nature, of building up the 
* Physiol. Led., iii., p. 151. t Ibid-, iii., p. 152. 


structure of their own bodies, and repairing the inju- 
ries they may accidentally sustain."* 


Very important in our view. The objection was 
very new at that time, and has made very little way 
yet. We have referred to this subject before. Con- 
sidering the period of these Lectures (nearly forty 
years ago), Abernethy's objections, though cautious, 
are very sound, and for him very positive. We know 
that he felt still more strongly. 

" Mr. Hunter, whom I should not have believed to 
be very scrupulous about inflicting sufferings upon an- 
imals, nevertheless censures Spalanzani for the un- 
meaning repetition of similar experiments. Having 
reso'ved publicly to express my own opinion with re- 
spect to this subject, I choose the present opportunity 
to do it, because I believe Spalanzani to have been one 
of those who have tortured and destroyed animals in 
vain. I do not perceive that in the two principal sub- 
jects which he sought to elucidate, he has added any 
important fact to our stock of knowledge ; besides, 
some of his experiments are of a nature that a good 
man would have blushed to think of, and a wise man 
ashamed to publish, for they prove no fact requiring to 
be proved, and only show that the aforesaid abbe was 
a filthy-minded fellow." 


" The design of experiments is to interrogate nature ; 
and surely the inquirer ought to make himself acquaint- 
ed with the language of nature, and take care to pro- 
* Physiol. Lect., iv., p. 155. 


pose pertinent questions. He ought further to consid- 
er the prohable kind of replies that may be made t > 
his inquiries, and the inferences that he may be war- 
ranted in drawing from different responses, so as to be 
able to determine whether, by the commission of cru- 
elty, he is likely to obtain adequate instruction. In- 
deed, before we make experiments on sensitive beings, 
we ought further to consider whether the information 
we seek may not be attainable by other means. I am 
aware of the advantages which have been derived from 
such experiments when made by persons of talent, and 
who have properly prepared themselves, but I know that 
these experiments tend to harden the feelings, which 
often lead to the inconsiderate performance of them. 

"Surely we should endeavor to foster and not stifle 
benevolence, the best sentiment of our nature, that 
which is productive of the greatest gratification both 
to its professor and to others. Considering the pro- 
fessors in this place as the organs of the Court of the 
College addressing its members, I feel that I act as 
becomes a senior of this institution while admitting the 
propriety of the practice under the foregoing restric- 
tions ; I, at the same time, express an earnest hope that 
the character of an English surgeon may never be tar- 
nished by the commission of inconsiderate or unneces- 
sary cruelty."* 


" To me, however, who confide more in the eye of 
reason than in that of sense, and would rather form 

* Physiol. Lect., iv., p. 164. 

L 2 


opinions from analogy than from the imperfect evidence 
of sight, it seems too hasty an inference to conclude 
that in the minute animals there are no vessels nor 
oilier organization because we can not see them, or that 
polypes are actually devoid of vessels, and merely of 
the structure described, because we can discern no oth- 
er. Were it, however, really so, such facts would then 
only show with how little and with what various or- 
ganization life could accomplish its principal functions 
of assimilation, formation, and multiplication. Who 
has seen the multitudinous distribution of absorbing 
vessels, and all the other organization, which doubtless 
exists in the vitreous humor of the eye, than which no 
glass ever appeared more transparent or more seemingly 
inorganic ? How strange is it that anatomists, above 
all other members of the community of science, should 
hesitate to admit the existence of what they can not 
discern, since they, more than all the rest, have such 
constant assurance of the imperfection and fallibility of 


" Our physiological theories should be adequate to 
account for all the vital phenomena both in health and 
disorder, or they can never be maintained as good 



" Chemists have considered the change as contribu- 
tory to the production of animal heat, which opinion 

♦ Physiol. Lect., v., p. 203. + Ibid, v., p. 229. 


may indeed be -true, though the manner in which it 
produces such an effect has not, as yet, been explained. 
Mr. Hunter, who believed that life had the power of 
regulating temperature independently of respiration, 
says nothing of that process as directly contributing to 
such an effect. He says, 'Breathing seems to render 
life to the blood, and the blood conveys it to every 
part of the body,' yet he believes the blood derives its 
vitality also from the food. I am at a loss to know 
what chemists now think respecting heat, whether they 
consider it to be a distinct species of matter, or mere 
motion and vibration. Among the curious revolutions 
which this age has produced, those of chemical opinions 
have a fair claim to distinction ; to show which, I may 
add, that a lady,* on her first marriage, was wedded 
to that scientific champion who first overthrew phlo- 
giston, and established in its stead the empire of calor- 
ic ; and after his decease, on her second nuptials, was 
united to the man who vainly supposed he had sub- 
verted the rule of caloric, and restored the ancient but 
long-banished dynasty of motion and vibration. In this 
state of perplexity, I can not, with prudence or proba- 
ble security, advance one step further than Mr. Hunter 
has led me. I must believe respiration to be essential 
to life, and that life has the pjower, by its actions, of 
maintaining and regulating temperature."! 


" Those of the medical profession must readily ac- 
cord with the remark of Shakspeare, that such affec- 
tions, which may well indeed be called ' master pas- 

* Madame Lavoisier, whose celebrated husband was guillotined, 
afterward married Count Rumford. t Physiol. Lect , v., p. 237. 


siions,' sway us to their mood in what Wo like or loathe ; 
for we well know that our patients and ourselves, from 
disturbance of the nervous functions of the digestive 
organs producing such affections of the brain, may be- 
come irritable, petulant, and violent about trifles, or 
oppressed, morose, and desponding. Permit me, how- 
ever, to add, that those of the medical profession must 
be equally apprised that when the functions of the 
mind are not disturbed by such affections, it displays 
great energy of thought, and evidence of established 
character, even in death. Have we not lately heard 
that the last words of Nelson were, ' Tell Collingwood 
to bring the fleet to an anchor?' Shakspeare has also 
represented Mercutio continuing to jest, though he was 
mortally wounded ; the expiring Hotspur thinking of 
nothing but honor, and the dying Falstaff cracking his 
jokes on Bardolph's nose. I request you to excuse this 
digression, which I have been induced to make from 
perceiving that if such facts were duly attended to, 
they would prompt us to a more liberal allowance for 
each other's conduct under certain circumstances than 
we are accustomed to do, and also incite us to the 
more active and constant performance of the great bus- 
iness of human life, the education of the mind, for ac- 
cording to its knowledge and dispositions do we possess 
the ability of contributing to our own welfare and 
comfort, and that of others."* 

* Lect., n., p. S57 




" Trace Science, then, with modesty thy guide, 
First strip off all her equipage of pride, 
Deduct what is but vanity or dress, 
Or learning's luxury or idleness, 
Or tricks, to show the stretch of human brain 
Mere curious pleasure or ingenious pain." 

Lecturing after a fashion is easy enough; teaching 
is a very different affair. The one requires little more 
than good information, some confidence, and a copia 
verborum; the other establishes several additional req- 
uisitions. These requisitions, when rendered compar- 
atively easy by nature, are seldom perfectly matured 
without art and some careful study. The transmission 
of ideas from one mind to another, in a simple unequiv- 
ocal form, is not. always easy; but in teaching, the ob- 
ject is not merely to convey the idea, but to give a live- 
ly and lasting impression; something that should not 
merely cause the retention of the image, but. in such 
connection as to excite another process, "thought." 

There was no peculiarity in Abernethy more strik- 
ing than the power he possessed of communicating his 
ideas, and of sustaining the interest of the subject on 
which he spoke. For this there is no doubt he was 
greatly indebted to natural talent, but it is equally 
clear that he had cultivated it with much care. His 
ability as a lecturer was, we think, unique. "We never 
saw his like before — we hardly dare hope we shall 


There is no doubt that a great part of his success 
depended on a facility of giving that variety of expres- 
sion, and that versatility of manner, which falls within 
the province of what we must call dramatic; but then 
it was of the very highest description, in that it was 
perfectly natural. It was of that kind that we some- 
times find in an actor, and which conveys the impres- 
sion that he is speaking his own sentiments rather 
than those of the author. It is a species of talent 
which dies with its possessor, and can not, we think, 
be conveyed by description. Still there were many 
things in Abernethy that were observable, and such as 
could hardly have been acquired without study. 

If we examine any lecturer's style, and ask our- 
selves what is his fault, we shall find very few in 
whom we can not detect one or more. When we do 
this, and then reflect on Abernethy, we are astonished 
to find how many he avoided. We shall endeavor to 
make this as intelligible as we can by citing some of 
the features which our attention to dilferent lecturers 
has suggested. 

Simplicity has struck us as a feature in lectures 
which, in some sense or other, is very commonly de- 
fective. Simplicity appears so important, that per- 
haps, by not a very illegitimate extension of its mean- 
ing, it might be made to include almost all the requi- 
sitions of this mode of teaching. Let us think of it in 
relation to language and illustration. In all sciences 
the facts are simple, the laws are yet more so; in- 
creasing knowledge tends to impress on us an ever-in- 
creasing and comprehensive simplicity. In explaining 
simple things, no doubt language should be simple too. 
If we employ language unnecessarily technical, we use 


symbols to which the learner is unaccustomed. He 
has not to learn the facts only, but he has the addi- 
tional labor of something allied to learning it in a for- 
eign language. The unnecessary use of technicalities 
should surely be avoided. Abernethy was obliged to 
use them because there were often no other terms, but 
he always avoided any needless multiplication of them. 
When they were difficult or objectionable, he tried 
some maneuver to lighten the repulsiveness of them. 

There are many muscles in the neck with long 
names, and which are generally given with important 
parts of surgical anatomy. Here he used to chat a 
little; he called them the little muscles with the long 
names ; but he would add, that, after all, they were the 
best named muscles in the body, because their names 
expressed their attachments. This gave him an ex- 
cuse for referring to what he had just described, in the 
form of a narrative rather than a dry repetition. Then, 
with regard to one muscle that he wished particularly 
to impress, the name of which was longer than any of 
the others, he used to point it out as a striking feature 
in all statues ; and then, repeating its attachments, and 
pointing to the sites which they occupied, say it was 
impossible to do so without having the image of the 
muscle before us. 

In other parts of the Lectures, he would accompany 
the technical name by the popular one. Thus he 
would speak of the pancreas, or sweet-bread; carti- 
lage, or gristle: few people are aware how many dif- 
ficulties are smoothed by such simple maneuvers. 
Nothing interests people so much as giving any thing 
positive. We think it not improbable that many a 
man has heard a lecture in which animals have been 


described, with whose habits he had been perfectly- 
familiar, without having recognized his familiar ac- 
quaintances in the disguise afforded by a voluminous 
Greek compound. Abernethy seemed always to lec- 
ture, not so much as if he was telling us what he 
knew, as that which we did not know. There was an 
absence of all display of any kind whatever. 

To hear some lecturers, one would almost think that 
they adopted the definition of language which is re- 
ported of Talleyrand, that it was intended to conceal 
our ideas. Some make simple things very much oth- 
erwise by the mode of explaining them. This reminds 
us of a very worthy country clergyman in the west of 
England, who, happening to illustrate something in his 
sermon by reference to the qualities of pitch, thought 
he should help his rustic congregation by enlarging a 
little on the qualities of that mineral. He according- 
ly commenced by saying, "Now, dear brethren, pitch 
is a bituminous substance," rather a difficult begin- 
ning, we should think, to have brought to a successful 

Sometimes we have heard a very unnecessary cata- 
logue of technicalities joined with several propositions 
in one sentence. It is hardly to be imagined how 
this increases the difficulty to a beginner, while it im- 
presses the excellence of that simplicity and clearness 
which were so charming in Abernethy. We give an 
example of this defect : the lecturer is describing the 
continuation of the cuticle over the eyes of the Crus- 
tacea, as lobsters, crabs, &c. " The epidermis (the 
cuticle) in the compound eyes of the Crustacea passes 
transparent and homogeneous over the external sur- 
face of the thick layer of the prismatic cornece, which 


are here, as in insects, generally hexagonal, but some- 
times quadrangular; and to the internal ends of the 
prismatic corneae are applied the broad bases of the 
hard, tapering transparent lenses, which have their in- 
ternal truncated apices directed to the retinal expan- 
sions of the numerous optic nerves." 

The high respect we entertain for the lecturer here 
alluded to withholds us from attempting to supply a 
more homely version of the foregoing passage. But 
what an idea this must give to a student who reads it 
in "the outlines" of a science of which he is about, to 
commence the study. There is nothing whatever dilfi- 
cult in the ideas themselves, but what a bristling 
chevaux-de-frise of hard words — what a phalanx of 
propositions! We fear we should never arrive at the 
knowledge of many of those beautiful adaptations 
which all animals exemplify, if we had to approach 
them by such a forbidding pathway. 

As contrasted with simple facts thus obscured by an 
unnecessary complexity of expression, we may see in 
Abernethy how a very comprehensive proposition may 
be very simply expressed. Take almost the first sen- 
tence in his Surgical Lectures, the germ, as it were, 
of a new science: "Now I say that local disease, in- 
jury, or irritation may affect the whole system, and 
conversely that disturbance of the whole system may 
affect any part." 

We have sometimes thought that lecturers who have 
had several desirable qualifications have materially 
diminished the attraction of them by faults which we 
hardly know how to designate by a better term than 
vulgarity, ill breeding, or gaucherie. Now Abernethy 
had, in the first place, that most difficult thing to ac- 


quire, the appearance of perfect ease without the 
slightest presumption. Some lecturers appear pain- 
fully "in company;" others have a self-complacent as- 
surance, that conveys an unfavorable impression to 
most well-bred people. Abernethy had a calm, quiet 
sort of ease, with that expression of thought which 
betokened respect for his task and his audience, with 
just enough of effort only to show that his mind was 
in his business. 

He had no offensive tricks. We have known lec- 
turers who never began without making faces, others 
who intersperse the lecture with unseemly gesticula- 
tions. Some, on the most trivial occasion, as refer- 
ring to a diagram, are constantly turning their backs 
completely to the audience. This is, we know, disa- 
greeable to many people, and unless a lecturer is very 
clear and articulate, occasionally renders his words not 
distinctly audible. Even in explaining diagrams it is 
seldom necessary to turn quite round ; the smallest in- 
clination toward the audience satisfies the requisitions 
of good breeding, and reminds them agreeably of a re- 
spect with which they never fail to be pleased, and of 
the lecturer's self-possession. There are indeed occa- 
sions when the lecturer had better turn a little 

Not long ago we heard a very sensible lecturer and 
a very estimable man produce an effect which was 
rather ludicrous — a very inconvenient impression when 
not intended. He had been stating very clearly some 
important facts, and he then observed : " The great 
importance of these facts I will now proceed to explain 
to you," when he immediately began to apply the pock- 
et-handkerchief he had in his hand most elaborately to 
his nose, still fronting the audience. It had the most 


ridiculous effect, and followed so closely on the pre- 
ceding remark as to suggest to the humorously inclined 
that it was part of the proposed explanation. 

Some think it excusable to cast their eyes upward 
with an expression of intense thought, or even to car- 
ry their hands to their heads or forehead for the same 
purpose. But this conveys a painful feeling to the au- 
dience, whose attention to the subject is apt to be di- 
verted by sympathy with the apparent embarrassment 
of tbe lecturer. Sometimes it conveys the impression 
of affectation, which, of course, is one form of vulgarity. 

Abernethy was remarkably free from any thing of 
the kind. The expression of his countenance was in 
the highest degree clear, penetrative, and intellectual, 
and his long but not neglected powdered hair, which 
covered both ears, gave altogether a philosophic calm- 
ness to his whole expression that was peculiarly pleas- 
ing. Then came a sort of little smile, which mantled 
over the whole face, and lighted it up with something 
which we can not define, but which seemed a com- 
pound of mirth, archness, and benevolence. 

The adjustment of the quantity of matter to the time 
employed in discussing it is an important point, in 
teaching. A lecture too long is not worse than a lec- 
ture too full. If the matter is spread too thinly, the 
lecture is bald and uninteresting, and apt to fall short 
of representing any integral division of a subject ; if it 
be too thick, it is worse, for then all is confused and 
difficult. A man's brain is like a box packed in a hur- 
ry ; when all is done, you neither know what you have 
got nor what you have forgotten. 

Here, again, Abernethy was in general very happy. 
Various circumstances would sometimes indeed, in the 


Anatomical Course, oblige him to put more into one 
lecture than was usual, but he had always, in such a 
case, some little maneuver to sustain the attention of 
his audience. No man ever carried the ars est celare 
arlem to so successful a point. Every thing he did 
had its object, every joke or anecdote its particular er- 
rand, which was, in general, most effectively fulfilled. 

The various ways in which Abernethy managed to 
lighten up the general lecture, or to illustrate single 
points, can hardly be conveyed by selection of particu- 
lar examples. There was a sort of running metaphor 
in his language, which, aided by a certain quaintness 
of manner, made common things go very amusingly. 
Muscles which pursued the same course to a certain 
point were said to travel sociably together and then to 
" part company." Blood-vessels and nerves had cer- 
tain habits in their mode of distribution contrasted in 
this way ; arteries were said to creep along the sides 
or between muscles. Nerves, on the contrary, were 
represented as penetrating their substance "without 
ceremony.'''' Then he had always a ready sympathy 
with his audience. If a thing was difficult, he would, 
as we have said, anticipate the feelings of the student. 
This is always encouraging, because, when a student 
finds a point difficult, if he is diffident merely, he is de- 
pressed; if he is lazy, he finds too good an excuse for it. 

His illustrations were usually drawn from some fa- 
miliar source, and if they were calculated to impress 
the fact, he was not very scrupulous whence he drew 
them. This would sometimes lead him into little trip- 
pings against refinement, but these were never wanton ; 
every thing had its object, from the most pathetic tale 
down to the smallest joke. When the thing to be im- 


pressed was not so much single facts or propositions as 
a more continued series, he had an admirable mode of 
pretending to con over the lecture in a manner which 
he would first recommend students to do, something 
after this fashion: "Let me see, what did he say?" 
"Well, first he told us that he should speak of Matter 
in general ; then he said something about the laws of 
Matter, of inertia, &c." " Well, I did not understand 
much of that, and 1 don't think he knew much about 
it himself," and so on. There would now be a gener- 
al smile, the attention of the class would be thorough- 
ly alive, and then he would, in this conning over, bring 
forward the points he most wished to impress of the 
whole lecture. A very striking proof of how much 
power he had in this way came out in a conversation 
I had with Dr. Thomas Rees. This gentleman knew 
Abernethy well, and in kindly answering some inqui- 
ries I made of him, he spoke of his power in lecturing. 
Among other things, he said, " The first lecture I ever 
heard him give impressed me very much ; I thought 
it admirable. His skill appeared so extraordinary. At 
the conclusion of the lecture," said Dr. Rees, "he pro- 
posed to the students to con over the lecture, which he 
proceeded to do for them." Dr. Rees then continued 
repeating the heads of the lecture, and this after at 
least thirty, perhaps forty years. 

Lecturers will illustrate sometimes a point by some- 
thing more difficult still, or something drawn from an- 
other branch of science. Sometimes the illustrations 
are so lengthy, or even important, that a pupil forgets 
what principle it was that was to be illustrated. "When 
we are desirous of learning something about water or 
air, it is painful for a pupil to be "reminded" of the 


" properties of angles," which it is an even chance he 
never knew. It is equally uncomfortable to many an 
audience, in lectures on other subjects, to have the 
course of a cannon-ball, which three pieces of string 
would sufficiently explain for mere purposes of illus- 
tration, charged with the " laws of projectiles," the 
" composition of forces," &c. We are, of course, not 
thinking of learned, but of learning audiences ; to the 
former, lectures are, of course, of no use ; but we al- 
lude to learners of mixed information and capacity — 
like young men who have been residing with medical 
men in the country — who come to a lecture for infor- 
mation, and who require to be interested in order that 
they may be instructed. Abernethy's illustrations were 
always in simple language. Rough ridden sometimes 
by a succession of many-footed Greek compounds, the 
mind of a student loves to repose on the refreshing 
simplicity of household phrases. 

Abernethy had stories innumerable. Every case 
almost was given with the interest of a tale, and every 
tale impressed some lesson or taught some relation in 
the structure, functions, or diseases of the body. We 
will give one or two, but their effect lay in the admi- 
rable manner in which they were related. 

If he was telling any thing at all humorous, it would 
he lighted up by his half shut, half smiling, and habit- 
ually benevolent eye. Yet his eye would easily as- 
sume the fire of indignation when he spoke of cruelty 
or neglect, showing how really these things were re- 
pulsive to him. Then his quiet, almost stealthy, but 
highly dramatic imitation of the manner of some sin- 
gular patient ; his equally finished mode of expressing 
pain, in the subdued tone of his voice ; and then, when 


something soothing or comfortable was successfully 
administered, his " Thank you, Sir, thank you, that is 
very comfortable," was just enough always to interest 
and never to offend. Now and then he would sketch 
some patient who had been as hasty as he himself was 
sometimes reported to be. " Mr. Abernethy, I am 
come, Sir, to consult you about a complaint that has 
given me a great deal of trouble." " Show me your 
tongue, Sir. Ah, I see, your digestive organs are very 
wrong." " I beg your pardon, Sir, there you are 
wrong yourself; I never was better in all my life," &c. 
All this, which is nothing in telling, was delivered in 
the half serious, half Munden-like, humorous manner, 
and yet so subdued as never to border on vulgarity or 

His mode of relating cases which involved some im- 
portant principle, showed how really interested he had 
been in them. A gentleman having recovered from a 
very serious illness after having failed a long time in 
getting relief, was threatened by the influence of the 
same causes with a return of his malady. " He 
thought," said Abernethy, " that if he did not drink 
deeply, he might eat like a glutton." He lived in the 
country, and Mr. Abernethy one day went and dined 
with him. "Well," said Mr. Abernethy, "I saw he 
was at his old tricks again; so, being a merchant, I 
asked him what he would think of a man who, having 
been thriving in business, had amassed a comfortable 
fortune, then went and risked it all in some imprudent 
speculation?" "Why," said the merchant, "I should 
think him a great ass." "Nay, then, Sir," said Aber- 
nethy, "thou art the man." 

On another occasion, a boy, having suffered severely 


from disease of the hip, Abernethy had enjoined his 
father to remove him from a situation which he was 
unfitted to fill, and which, from the exertion it re- 
quired, would expose him to a dangerous recurrence 
of his complaint. The father, however, put the boy 
back to his situation ; one day Abernethy met both 
father and son in Chancery Lane, and he saw the boy, 
who had a second time recovered, again limping in his 
walk. After making the necessary inquiry, " Sir," said 
he to the father, "did I not warn you not to place your 
son in that situation again." The father admitted the 
fact. "Then, Sir," said Abernethy, " if that boy dies, 
I shall be ready to say you are his murderer." Sure 
enough, the boy had another attack, and did die in a 
horrible condition. 

This story, and others of a similar kind, were in- 
tended to impress the paramount importance of keep- 
ing diseased parts, and joints especially, in a state of 
perfect repose, and to prevent recurrence of disease by 
avoiding modes of life inappropriate to constitutions 
which had exhibited a tendency to this serious class 
of diseases. 

He was remarkably good on the mode of detecting 
and managing accidents, fractures, and dislocations. 
In regard to the latter, he had many very good stories, 
of which we will presently cite a ludicrous example. 
He could, however, throw in pathos with admirable 
skill when he desired it. The following lamentable 
case, he used to tell to an audience singularly silent. 
He is speaking of the course of a large artery. 

"Ah," said he, "there is no saying too much on the 
importance of recollecting the course of large arteries; 
but I will tell you a case. There was an officer in the 


navy, and as brave a fellow as ever stepped, who in a 
sea-fight received a severe wound in the shoulder, which 
opened his axillary artery. Ho lost a large quantity 
of blood, but the wound was stanched for the moment, 
and he was taken below. As he was an officer, the 
surgeon, who saw he was wounded severely, was about 
to attend to him before a seaman who had been just 
brought down. But the officer, though evidently in 
great pain, said, 'Attend to that man, Sir, if you please; 
I can wait.' Well, his turn came; the surgeon made 
up his mind that a large artery had been wounded, 
but, as there was no bleeding, dressed the wound, and 
went on with his business. The officer lay very faint 
and exhausted for some time, and at length began to 
rally again, when the bleeding returned; the surgeon 
was immediately called, and not knowing where to find 
the artery, or what else to do, told the officer he must 
amputate his arm at the shoulder joint. The officer 
at once calmly submitted to this additional but unnec- 
essary suffering, and as the operator proceeded, asked 
if it would be long; the surgeon replied that it would 
be soon over; the officer rejoined, ' Sir, I thank God for 
it!' but he never spake more.'' 

Amid the death-like silence of the class, Abernethy 
calmly concluded, "I hope you will never forget the 
course of the axillary artery." 

His position was always easy and natural, sometimes 
homely, perhaps. In the Anatomical Lecture he al- 
ways stood, and either leaned against the wall, with 
his hands folded before him, or resting one hand on the 
table, with the other perhaps in his pocket. In his 
Surgical Lecture he always sat, and very generally 
with one leg resting on the other. 



He was particularly happy in a kind of coziness, or 
friendliness of manner, which seemed to identify him 
with his audience — as if we were all about to investi- 
gate something interesting together, and not as if we 
were going to he "Lectured at" at all. He spoke as 
if addressing each individual, and his discourse, like a 
happy portrait, always seemed to be looking you in the 
face. On very many accounts, the tone and pitch of 
the voice in lecturing are important. First, that it 
may not be inaudible, and yet not too loud. The one 
defeats the whole object, the other is apt to give an 
impression of vulgarity. We recollect a gentleman 
who was about to deliver a lecture in a theatre to 
which he was unaccustomed ; he was advised to ascer- 
tain the loudness required, and to place a friend in the 
most distant part, to judge of its fitness; but he de- 
clined it as unnecessary. When he had given the lec- 
ture, which was a very good one on a very interesting 
subject, he was much mortified in finding that he had 
been inaudible to at least one half of the audience. 

Abernethy was very successful in this respect. His 
voice seldom rose above what we may term the con- 
versational, either in pitch or tone ; it was, in general, 
pleasing in quality, and enlivened by a sort of archness 
of expression. His loudest tone was never oppressive 
to those nearest to him, his most subdued audible every 
where. The range of pitch was very limited ; the ex- 
pression of the eye and a slight modulation being the 
media by which he infused through the lecture an 
agreeable variety, or gave to particular sentiments the 
requisite expression. There was nothing like declama- 
tion ; even quotations were seldom louder than would 
have, been admissible in a drawing-room. We have 


heard lecturers whose habitually declamatory tone has 
been very disagreeable, and this seldom fails to be mis- 
chievous. A declamatory tone tends to divert the at- 
tention, or to weary it when properly directed. On al- 
most every subject it is sure to be the source of occa- 
sional bathos, which now and then borders on the ridic- 
ulous. Conceive a man describing a curious animal in 
the diagram, saying, " This part, to which I now direct 
my rod, is the point of the tail," in a sepulchral tone 
and heavy cadence, as if he had said, " This is the end 
of all things." Another inconvenience often attending 
a declamatory tone, as distinguished from Ihe narra- 
tive or descriptive, is the tendency it has to make a 
particular cadence. Sometimes we have heard lectur- 
ers give to every other sentence a peculiar fall ; and 
this succession of rhythmical samenesses, if the lecturer 
be not otherwise extremely able, sends people napping. 

Another fault we observe in some lecturers is a re- 
iteration of particular phrases. In description it is not 
easy always to avoid this, but it seldom occurred in any 
disagreeable degree in Abernethy. We have heard 
some lecturers, in describing things, continually reiter- 
ating such phrases as " We find," " It is to be observed," 
in such quick and frequent succession, that people's 
sides began to jog in spite of them. 

Provincial or national idiom, or other peculiarity, is 
by no means uncommon, and generally more or less 
disagreeable. Abernethy was particularly free from 
either. He could, in telling stories, slightly imitate the 
tone and manner of the persons concerned ; but it was 
always touched in, in the lightest possible manner, and 
with the subdued coloring and finish of a first-rate art- 
ist. His power of impressing facts, and of rendering 


them simple and interesting by abundance and variety 
of illustration, was very remarkable, and had the effect 
of imparting an interest to the driest subject. In the 
first place, he had an agreeable mode of sympathizing 
with the difficulty of the student. If he were about 
to describe a bone, or any thing which he knew to be 
difficult, he would adopt a tone more like that in which 
a man would teach it to himself than describe it to 
others. For example, he would say, perhaps, " Ah ! this 
is a queer-looking bone; it has a very odd shape, but 
I plainly perceive that one may divide it into two parts." 
Then, pointing with a probe to the division he proposed, 
he would begin, not. so much to describe as to find, as 
if for the first time, the various parts of which he wish- 
ed to teach the names and uses ; the description being 
a kind of running accompaniment to his tracing of the 
bone, and in a tone as if half talking to himself and 
half to the audience. 

Every one feels the importance of order and clear- 
ness of arrangement. Of Abernethy's, we have spoken 
generally in the early part of this volume; simplicity 
and impressing the more important facts were the 
main objects. He showed very frequently his percep- 
tion of the importance of order, and would often meth- 
odize for the students. He knew very well that ABC 
was much more easily remembered than Z JK, and he 
would sometimes humorously contrast the difference 
between a man whose knowledge was well packed, 
and one whose information was scattered and without 
arrangement. This he usually did by supposing two 
students under examination. The scene would not 
tell upon paper, but it never failed to create a good 
deal of mirth in the theatre, during which he would 


contrive to repeat the facts he meant to impress, with- 
out the tedium of mere reiteration. 

Various people have been more or less deeply im- 
pressed with different parts of his lectures, most per- 
sons having their favorite passages. In his anatom- 
ical course we were never more pleased than by his 
general view of the structure of the body. He adopt- 
ed on that occasion the synthetical plan, and put in 
imagination the various parts together which were to 
be afterward taught analytically. In his surgical 
course, the manner in which he illustrated the practi- 
cal points, and his own views in the "Eventful His- 
tory of a Compound Fracture," was, we think, the 
most successful triumph both as to matter and man- 
ner which we have ever witnessed. 

An abundance of resource and maneuvers of the 
kind we have mentioned gave a great "liveliness" to 
his lecture, which, in its quiet form, so as not to di- 
vert or disturb, is a great difficulty in lecturing. 

We have heard an excellent lecturer, whose only 
fault, we think*, was want of liveliness and variety. 
Few men could in other respects lecture comparably to 
him. Nothing could surpass the quiet, polished man- 
ner of this accomplished teacher. His voice, though 
not good, was by no means unpleasing; his articula- 
tion elaborately distinct, and free from all provincial- 
ism; his language always correct and appropriate; the 
structure of his sentences strikingly grammatical; and 
they fell in such an easy, though somewhat too rhyth- 
mical succession, as to be at once graceful and me- 
lodious; his arrangement always simple and clear. 
Nothing was more striking than the deferential man- 
ner in which he approached a philosophical subject. 


"I like ," said one who had often heard him, 

"because he is always so gentlemanly. There is 
nothing off-hand, as if he thought himself very clever, 
hut a kind of unaffected respect for himself and his 
audience, which obliges one to pay attention to him, if 
it were only because you feel that a man of education 
is speaking to you." 

What, it may be said, can such a man want? Why, 
he wanted liveliness and flexibility. His voice meas- 
ured forth its gentlemanly way with all the regularity 
of a surveying ro 1. Various and interesting as his 
subjects were, and handled with consummate ability, 
he must certainly have taught ; yet we think he sent 
away many of his audience passive recipients, as dis- 
tinguished from persons set on thinking what they had 
heard "into their own." 

He performed his task like a good man and a schol- 
ar, but still it was like a task after all. It was some- 
thing like a scholar reading a book, always excepting 
the beautifully clear illustrations for which his subject 
gave him abundant opportunity. He wanted that an- 
imation and interest in his subject by which a lecturer 
inoculates you with his own enthusiasm. He was the 
most striking example in our experience of the import- 
ance of liveliness and variety, and of making a lecture, 
however well delivered, just that thing which we can 
not find in a book. The life-like, the dramatic effect 
was wanting ; and it was to this alone that we can as- 
cribe what we have not unfrequently observed in the 
midst of a generally attentive audience, a few who 
were "nodding" their assent to his propositions. 

Now Abernethy's manner was perfect in these re- 
spects. He had just got the " cheerfully, not too fast" 


expression that we sometimes see at the head of a mu- 
sical composition. His manner was so good that it is 
difficult to convey any idea of it. It was easy without 
being negligent; cheerful without being excited; hu- 
morous, often witty, without being vulgar ; expeditious 
without being in bustle ; and he usually took care that 
you should learn the thing before he gave the name of 
it, and understand it before he expatiated on the beau- 
ty or perfection of its adaptation to the ends it seemed 
designed to serve. 

He was particularly chaste in the manner in which 
he spoke of design, or other of the Attributes so fre- 
quently observable in natural arrangements. It is a 
great mistake, we think, and not without something 
akin to vulgarity, to usher in any description of the 
beauties of nature by a flourish of such trumpets as 
human epithets form — mere notes of admiration — Na- 
ture speaks best for herself. The mind is kept in a 
state of excitement by too frequent/e«:c de joies of this 
kind ; the frequent recurrence of such terms as " curi- 
ous ! strange ! wonderful !" on subjects where all is 
wonderful, have a sort of bathos in the ears of the ju- 
dicious, while to the less critical they produce a sort of 
disturbed atmosphere, which is unfavorable to the calm 
operations of the intellect. 

Abernethy was generally very careful in these mat- 
ters. I give one example. He is speaking of carti- 
lage, or gristle, which covers the ends of the bones where 
they form joints, and has explained its great elasticity, 
the use of it in preventing jarring, and contrasted the 
springiness of youth with the easily-jarred frame of 
age. " Well," he adds, " this cartilage is fibrous, and 
they say that the fibres are arranged vertically, so that 


the body may be said to be supported on ' myriads of 
elastic columns?" That was the beauty by which he 
wished to impress that which he had previously taught. 

When marvelousness is too much excited, many say, 
" Ah, how clever that gentleman is 1 what an interest- 
ing lecture ! what a curious thing that was be showed 
us !" but when you inquire what principle or law was 
intended to be illustrated, you find that the sensual or 
imaginative faculty has alone been excited, and has 
galloped off with that which was intended for the in- 
tellect. If persons are examined as to a particular 
point of the lecture, they are apt to say, "Well, that 
is just what I wanted to know ; would you explain it ?" 

It would seem that it is a great mistake to excite 
marvelousness on our external senses very vividly when 
we desire to concentrate the intellectual faculties. 
That breathless silence, with eyes and mouth open, 
that " intenti que ora lenebant" condition, excited by 
marvelousness, is very well for the story of /Eneas or 
Robinson Crusoe, but it is out of place when we are 
endeavoring to augment our intellectual possessions. 

We require, in fact, a calmer atmosphere. The de- 
sire to interest and hold the attention of our audience 
is so natural, that it is very apt to escape one that this 
may be done on terms not consistent with our real ob- 
ject, the interesting the intellect ; and this fault is per- 
haps, of all, the worst, because it is never a greater 
failure than when it appears to be successful. All oth- 
er faults in lecturing, if serious in one respect, tell their 
own tale in the thinning audience. 

The learned author of the " Philosophy of Rhetoric" 
has observed, " A discourse directed to the understand- 
ing will not admit of an address to the passions, which, 


as it never fails to disturb the operation of the intellect- 
ual faculty, must be regarded by every intelligent hear- 
er as foreign indeed, if not insidious." He had before 
said " that in such a discourse you may borrow meta- 
phor or comparison to illustrate it, but not the bolder 
figures, prosopopoeia and the like, which are intended, 
not to elucidate the subject, but to create admiration." 

"It is obvious," he continues, "that either of the 
foregoing, far from being subservient to the main de- 
sign (to address the intellect), serves only to distract 
the attention from it."* 

The learned author, however, in the first sentence, 
makes a distinction which requires, perhaps, to be re- 
ceived with some caution. 

There is no discourse that is solely intellectual ; the 
driest mathematical proposition interests our feelings. 
The pleasure of truth, what is that? Not merely in- 
tellectual, certainly. It is a pleasure derived from the 
intellect, no doubt, but it is & feeling entirely distinct. 
So, ia addresses to the passions, if they are successful, 
the presiding influence of the intellect is very obvious ; 
this away, a discourse soon merges into bombast or fus- 
tian, a something which neither impresses the feelings 
nor the passion as desired. 

The true desideratum, as it appears to us, is accura- 
cy of adjustment, not separation. In intellectual oper- 
ations, the feelings are to be subservient to the accom- 
plishment of the objects of the intellect. In discourses 
where the passions or feelings are most appealed to or 
most prominent, the intellect must still really guide, 
though it may appear to follow. 

Notwithstanding that so much of Abernethy's lec- 

* Vol. i., p. 23. 



turing was on anatomy, and therefore necessarily ad- 
dressed to the eye, yet he seldom offered any illustra- 
tion to the external senses. He was always endeavor- 
ing to impress the mechanical relations of parts by ref- 
erence to their uses and surgical relations. Even in 
speaking of light, he would he suggestive beyond the 
mere perception of sense. He used to say of refraction 
of light, when the refracting medium was, as it com- 
monly is, the denser body, " that the ray seems as if 
attracted," a very suggestive phrase to any one who 
has thought much on the subject of light. It is a cu- 
rious thing to observe how confused the ideas of many 
people are on the phenomena of light, and we are afraid 
that the cause is that the illustrations to the eye are 
given too soon. If people were made to understand by 
a simple illustration what they are about to see, it is 
probable they would have much clearer ideas. The 
intellect having gone before, the eye no longer diverts 
it from its office ; and the eye would then be merely 
impressing, by means of a physical representation, an 
established idea. 


" Suavis autem est et vehementer saepe utilis jocus et facetiae." — 
Cic, De Orat. 

Abernethy's humor was very peculiar, and though 
there was, of course, something in the matter, there 
was a great deal more, as it appeared to us, in the man- 
ner. The secret of humor, we apprehend, lies in the 
juxtaposition, either expressed or implied, of incongru- 
ities, and it is not easy to conceive any thing humor- 


ons which does not involve these conditions. We have 
sometimes thought, there was just this difference in the 
humor of Abernethy, as contrasted with that of Sidney 
Smith. In Smith's there was something that, told by 
whom it might be, was always ludicrous. Abernethy's 
generally lay in the telling. 

"TUP jest's propriety lies in the ear 
Of him who hears it, never in the tongue 
Of him that makes it," 

although true, was still to be taken in rather a differ- 
ent sense from that in which it is usually received. 
The former (a far higher species of humor) may be re- 
corded ; the dramatic necessities of the other occasion 
it to die with the author. The expression Abernethy 
threw into his humor (though of course without that 
broadness which is excusable in the drama, but which 
would have been out of place in a philosophical dis- 
course) was a quiet, much-subdued coloring between 
ihi^ good-nature of Dowton and (a little closer, perhaps, 
to the latter) the more quiet and gentlemanly portions 
of M linden. 

Few old pupils will forget the story of the Major who 
had dislocated his jaw. 

This accident is a very simple one, and easily put 
right; but, having once happened, is apt to recur on 
any unusual extension of the lower jaw. Abernethy 
used to represent this is as a frequent occurrence with 
an hilarious Major ; but as it generally happened at 
mess, the surgeon went round to him and immediately 
put it in again. One day, however, the Major was 
dining about fourteen miles from the regiment, and in 
a hearty laugh out went his jaw. They sent for the 
medical man, whom, said Abernethy, we must call the 


apothecary. Well, at first he thought that the jaw- 
was dislocated ; hut lie began to pull and to show that 
he knew nothing about the proper mode of putting it 
right again. On this the Major began to be very ex- 
cited, and vociferated inarticulately in a strange man- 
ner, when, all at once, the doctor, as if he had just hit 
on the nature of the case, suggested that the Major's 
complaint was on his brain, and that he could not be 
in his right mind. On hearing this the Major became 
furious, which was regarded as confirmatory of the 
doctor's opinion; they accordingly seized him, confined 
him in a strait-waistcoat and put him to bed, and the 
doctor ordered that the barber should be sent for to 
shave the head, and a blister be applied "to the part 

The Major, fairly beaten, ceased making resistance, 
but made the best signs his situation and his imper- 
fect articulation allowed for pen and paper. This be- 
ing hailed as indicative of returning rationality, was 
procured; and as soon as he was sufficiently freed from 
his bonds, he wrote, " For God's sake, send for the sur- 
geon of the regiment." This was accordingly done, 
and the jaw readily reduced, as it had been often be- 
fore. "I hope," added Abernethy, "you will never for- 
get how to reduce a dislocated jaw." 

We think what we have said of the style of his hu- 
mor must be not very incorrect, from knowing that 
one of his oldest pupils and greatest admirers made a 
romark almost identical with the foregoing. I recol- 
lect it being said of John Bannister that the reason his 
acting pleased every body was that he was always a 
gentleman ; an extremely difficult thing, we should im- 
agine, in handling some of the freer parts of our comic 


dialogues Abernethy's humor (exceptionally indeed, 
but occasionally a little broad) never suggested the 
idea of vulgarity ; and, as we have said, every joke 
had its mission. Then, at times, though there was 
not much humor, yet a promptness of repartee gave it 
that character. 

"Mr. Abernethy," said a patient, "I have something 
the matter, Sir, with this arm. There, oh! (making a 
particular motion with the limb), that, Sir, gives me 
great pain." "Well, what a fool you must be to do 
it, then," said Abernethy. 

One of the most interesting facts in relation to Aber- 
nethy's lecturing was that, however great his natural 
capacity, he certainly owed very much to careful study 
and practice ; and we can not but think that it is 
highly encouraging to a more careful education for 
this mode of teaching to know the difficulty that even 
such a man as Abernethy had for some few years in 
commanding his self-possession. To those who only 
knew him in his zenith or his decline, this will appear 
extraordinary; yet, to a careful observer, there were 
many occasions when it was easy to see that he did 
not appear so entirely at ease without some effort. 
He was very impatient of interruption ; an accidental 
knock at the door of the theatre, which, by mistake of 
some stranger, would occasionally happen, would dis- 
concert him considerably ; and once, when he saw some 
pupil joking or inattentive, he stopped, and with a se- 
verity of manner I hardly ever saw before or afterward, 
said, "If the lecture, Sir, is not interesting to you, I 
shall beg you to walk out." 

There were, as we shall hereafter observe, perhaps 
physical reasons for this irritability. He never hesi- 


tated, as we occasionally hear lecturers do, nor ever 
used any notes. When he came to any part that he 
perhaps wished to impress, he would pause and think 
for a second or two, with his class singularly silent. 
It was a fine moment. We recollect being once at his 
lecture with the late Professor Macartney, who had been 
a student of Abernethy's. Macartney said, what can 
it be that enables him to give so much interest to what 
we have so often heard before ? We believe it to have 
been nothing but a steady observance of rules, com- 
bined with an admirable power matured by study. 

That which, above every thing, we valued in the 
whole of Abernethy's lectures, was what can hardly be 
expressed otherwise than by the term tone. Witji an 
absence of all affectation — with the infusion of all sorts 
of different qualities — with humor, hilarity, lively man- 
ner, sometimes rather broad illustrations, at other times 
calm and philosophical, with all the character of deep 
thought and acute penetration — indignation at what 
was wrong or unfeeling, and pathos in relation to irre- 
mediable calamity — yet the thing which surpassed all 
was the feeling he inoculated the pupils with, of a high 
and conscientious calling. He had a way which ex- 
cited enthusiasm without the pupil knowing why. We 
are often told by lecturers of the value of knowledge 
for various purposes — for increasing the power and 
wealth of the country — of its use in increasing the 
comforts and pleasures of society, for amassing for- 
tunes, and for obtaining what the world usually means 
by the term distinction. But Abernethy created a feel- 
ing distinct from and superior to all mere utilitarian 
purposes. He made one feel the mission of a consci- 
entious surgeon to be a high calling, and spurned in 


manner as well as matter the more trite and hackneyed 
modes of inculcating these things. You had no set es- 
say, no long speeches. The moral was like a golden 
thread artfully interwoven in a tissue to which it gives 
a diffusive lustre, which, pervading it every where, is 
obtrusive nowhere. 

For example, the conditions attached to the perform- 
ance of our lowest duties (operations) were the well- 
ascertained ineffioacy of our best powers directed to 
judicious treatment; the crowning- test — the convic- 
tion that, placed in the same circumstances, we ivould 
have the same operation performed on ourselves. Much 
of the suggestive lies on these directions. Our sympa- 
thies toward the victims of mistake or ignorance, he- 
sides the sufferings endured, were heightened by the 
patient possessing, or having been bereft of some qual- 
ity) which called up those feelings which, in some, the 
case merely might not have awakened. 

A father, who, in subservience to the worldly pros- 
pects of his son, placed him in a situation, while he for- 
got his first duty, the health of his offspring, was the 
" murderer" of his child. Another victim we have seen 
was "as brave a fellow as ever stepped," &c. 

Humanity and science went hand in hand. His 
method of discovering- the nature of dislocations and 
fractures, by attention to the relative position of parts, 
was admirable, and few of his pupils, who have had 
much experience, have failed to prove the practical ex- 
cellence of them. He repudiated nothing more than 
the too commonly regarded test in fractures of "Grat- 
ing or Crepitus." Nothing distinguished his examin- 
ation of a case more than his gentleness, unless it was 
the clearness with which he delivered his opinions. 


To show how important gentleness is: a surgeon had 
a puzzling case of injury to the elbow. He believed 
that he knew the nature of the accident, and that he 
had put the parts right; but still the joint remained in 
a half- straight position; and the surgeon, who knew 
his business, became alarmed lest something had es- 
caped him, and that the joint would be stiff. He pro- 
posed a consultation. The joint was examined with 
great gentleness, and after Abernethy's plan. The boy 
experienced no pain. Every thing appeared in its nat- 
ural position. The surgeon said, " Now, my boy, bend 
your arm a little, but no further than just to reach my 
ringer, and not as much as that if it gives you any pain." 
This the boy did very gently. After waiting a few 
minutes, the surgeon again told him to bend it a little 
more, and upon the same conditions; and so on, until 
in a very short space of time, perhaps eight or ten min- 
utes, the arm had been completely bent. The boy had 
been alarmed, and the muscles had become so sensitive 
that they held the parts with the most painful tenaci- 
ty, but beyond this there was nothing the matter. 

We can not help thinking that Abernethy's benevo- 
lence had a great influence in directing some of his 
happiest contributions to practice. We consider that 
every sufferer with that serious accident, fracture of 
the neck of the thigh bone, owes a great portion of any 
recovery he may have to Abernethy. It was he who 
was the real means of overthrowing a dangerous dog- 
ma, that such cases could not unite by bone, and who 
opposed the practice consequent on it, by which repa- 
ration by bone became impossible. There was hardly 
any subject which he touched which he did not take 
some view of more or less original, and his reasoning 


was always particularly simple and to the point. No 
man, we believe, ever exceeded him in the skill he pos- 
sessed in conveying ideas from one mind unto anoth- 
er ; but he did a great deal more — he sent those who 
really studied him away thinking, and led them to 
work with a kind of pleasure, which was in some sense 
distinct from any merely practical or professional in- 

He contrived to imbue you with the love of philo- 
sophical research in the abstract, with an interest in 
truth for its own sake; you found yourself remember- 
ing the bare facts, not so much from conscious effects 
of memory as from the interest suggestive of observa- 
tions with which they were so frequently associated. 
In going over one of his Lectures alone, they seemed 
to grow and expand under your own reflections. We 
know not how to express the effect they produced ; 
they seemed to give new pleasure on repetition, to pu- 
rify your thoughts scarcely less than they animated 
your onward studies. 

In studying their more suggestive passages, you 
would now and then feel surprise at the number and 
variety of important practical relations arising out of 
a single proposition. We are here merely stating our 
own early impressions of his power ; what we really 
felt always was, that, great as was the excellence of 
these Lectures in a scientific or professional sense, 
there was something more excellent still in the ele- 
ment they contained of intellectual expansion and of 
moral improvement. 

We can not indeed say that they had no faults, but 
we should be hard driven to point them out; and al- 
though we feel how short our attempt to give some idea 


of his mode of proceeding must fall of doing him jus- 
tice, still, if there be any truth at all in our represent- 
ation, it is quite clear that his negative excellences 
alone must have employed no ordinary powers. But 
we must conclude : " Quid multa ? istum audiens 
equidem sic judicare soleo ; quidquid aut addideris 
aut mutaveris aut de traxeris, vitiosius et deterius fu- 


Hon. Is it a custom? 

Hamlet. Ay, marry, is't : 
But to my mind — though I am native here, 
And to the manner born — it is a custom 
More honored in the breach than the observance. 

Hamlet, Act i., Sc. 4. 

If a moralist were to divide his catalogue of immo- 
ralities into such as were of general commission and 
such as occurred in the conduct of the various trades 
and professions, we fear the latter division would sug- 
gest no very flattering position to humanity. An ele- 
vation somewhat above less gifted creatures it might 
be ; but still, we fear, it must be at so low a level as 
to afford but a humiliating indication of the height 
from which he had fallen. He would, in too many 
instances perhaps, find his real claims to his high des- 
tiny about equal to the shadowy difference between a 
creature who fulfills some only of his responsibilities, 
and one who has no responsibilities to fulfill. We should 
like to hear some grave philosopher discourse on Fash- 
ion : it is surely a curious thing, for there is a fash- 
ion in every thing. It is very like habit, but it is not 


habit either. Habit is a garment, which takes some 
time to fit easily, and is then not abandoned without 
difficulty. Fashion is always a good fit instanter, but 
is thrown aside at once without the smallest trouble. 
The most grotesque or absurd custom which slowly- 
paced habit bores us with examining, is at once adopt- 
ed by fashion with a characteristic assentation. 

Morals are by no means free from this kind of con- 
ventionalism. 80 much the contrary, that few things 
evince more strongly the power of fashion. It might 
be imagined that the multiplication of examples would 
tend to teach the true nature of the thing exemplified, 
but it would not seem so with error ; tout an contraire. 
Arts or acts which are tabooed as vicious in the singu- 
lar number, become, in the plasticity of our moral 
grammars, very tolerable in the plural. Things that 
the most hardy shrink from perpetrating single handed, 
become easy " compliance with custom" when " joint- 
stock" vices; practices which, when partial, men are 
penetrative enough to discover to be unchristian, or 
sufficiently sensitive to regard as ungentlemanly, pass 
muster with marvelous lubricity when they become 
universal. We can anathematize, with self-complacent 
indignation, vices in which we have no share, but we 
become abundantly charitable when we discuss those 
in which we have a common property ; and, finally, 
moral accounts are settled very much to our own sat- 
isfaction, as Butler says, by compounding 

" For sins we are inclined to, 
By damning those we have no mind to." 

After all, society keeps a pretty good look-out after 
faults of general commission. The law is tolerably 
comprehensive of things which are of general commis- 


sion, and mankind sooner or later contrive to catch or 

successfully oppose the numerous little enormities 

which slip through the finest of our legal meshes. 

" Raro antecedentem scelestum, 
Deseruit pede poena claudo." 

From all this, it results that moral obliquities which 
fall within the observation of society make but an up- 
hill game ; that which is felt to be prejudicial to the 
interests of society is easily determined to be vicious. 
But here again there is much in fashion ; for it has 
often determined that the immorality of an act is not 
to be measured by the nature of the act, nor the mo- 
tive even on which it has been founded, so much as by 
the more refined test afforded by the position of the 
actor ; like a sort of commercial megatherium, one 
may gorge with rail-way velocity that which a once 
breathing fond affection and a cold world alike determ- 
ined to be the life-blood of widows and orphans, and 
yet have noblemen and others for his associates ; he 
may, perhaps, be a legislator in a great nation, while 
the poor starveling, who steals for the vulgar purpose 
of satisfying hunger, may be sent to the treadmill, 
where he may solve at leisure the problem which " the 
most enlightened nation on the earth" has thus set 

Again, vices which have a known influence in dis- 
turbing the relations of society are in various ways op- 
posed by the more public influences of religion; so 
that in the end, although a man may arrive at the con- 
clusion — only by exhausting all other views before he 
hits on those which lead to it — he finds that honesty 
is as good a way of getting on as any other; or he 
may advance perhaps even on this utilitarian creed so 


far as to agree with Tillotson, that people take more 
trouble to get to Hell than would suffice to carry them 
to Heaven. Thr. immoralities of trades and profes- 
sions lie in a different position, and involve certain pe- 
culiarities which favor their growth and perpetuity. 

They are committed in secret; people are proverb- 
ially cautious of attacking the weak positions of others, 
who feel that their own retreats are equally ill defend- 
ed. This and the established conventionalism of each 
calling enables an individual to do a good deal off his 
own bat, without, as one of our bishops happily ex- 
pressed it, "being caught out." In trade we are some- 
times informed that a thing can not be sold cheaper — 
that the price asked is already less than the cost; and 
people are appropriately addressed as idiots who every 
day appear to believe that which common sense shows 
to be an impossibility. 

Your purveyors will sometimes tell you that they 
are not living by the prices they charge, although yon 
have just ascertained that the same article may be 
bought at infinitely less cost in the next market. The 
other day a watch-maker told us that our watch want- 
ed a good deal of looking to, and, among other things, 
"no doubt cleaning;" but this he discovered, we sup- 
pose, by some recondite mesmeric process, in a book 
which recorded when it had been cleaned last, without 
looking at the watch at all. 

As regards professions, lawyers are said to defend 
right and wrong with indiscriminate avidity, with the 
encouraging prospect of obtaining more fruit in main- 
taining one wrong cause than establishing twenty 

Then the real nature of these things is, like many 


in other sciences, obscured by a somewhat cloudy no- 
menclature. "We hear of " customs of the trade," " se- 
crets of the trade,"' or profession, applied to things 
which the moralist only recognizes under very different 
designations. Sophisms thus secured, and which ap- 
pear to minister to a man's interests, have their true 
colors developed with difficulty, to say nothing of its 
not being easy to discover that which there is no desire 
to examine. 

If any man should be so "peculiar" or "crotchety" 
as to consider that names are of little import, and that 
"Vice is vice, for a' that," and venture to anathema- 
tize any custom, or even refuse to be an accessory in 
declining to wink at it, he may encounter charges of 
violating professional confidence, overlooking a proper 
esprit de corps, and be outvoted, for no better reason 
than that he can not concur in the dogma that a vicious 
sophism is more valuable than a simple truth, or agree 
with the currier "that leather is the best material for 
fortification;" he may possibly be let off by conceding 
his connivance, which is little better than declining to 
be the thief, as too shocking, but having no objection 
to the more lubricated position of the receiver. 

But does any one for one moment believe that all 
this can be hung on any trade or profession with no 
effect? or that it will not have a baneful influence on 
every calling, and that in proportion as its real nnd 
proper duties are beneficent and exalted ? Now, while 
we claim for the medical profession a position which, 
in its single-mindedness and benevolence, yields to no 
other whatever, we fear it is not wholly free from these 
technical besettings. 

Tn the medical profession we trust that which we, 


for want of a better term, designate as technical im- 
moralities, are exceptional. Exceptional they may be, 
we sincerely hope, and believe they are; but in a 
crowded island, exceptions relatively few may be abso- 
lutely numerous; and whenever they occur, especially 
if men hold any position, one case of compromise of 
duty does more harm than a hundred of the most in- 
flexible adhesions to it can remedy. Suppose a pa- 
tient apply to a surgeon with a complaint requiring 
one operation, and his fears incline him to another; 
he is informed it is improper for his case: that, so far 
from relieving him, it will indefinitely increase his suf- 
ferings. The patient reiterates his wishes, the surgeon 
declines doing that which he would not have done in 
his own person. On lamenting what he believes to be 
the consequences of the patient's determination to a 
brother surgeon, he is met by, " What a fool you must 

be, to throw away guineas; if you don't do it, 

somebody else will." 

He is quite right in his prediction, and so is the sur- 
geon who refused to operate, and he has lost a large 
fee ; he receives the verification of his prediction sub- 
sequently from the patient, who exclaims, " Sir, I nev- 
er have a moment's ease !" and when, after weeks of 
suffering, the patient dies, the surgeon consoles him- 
self with the melancholy satisfaction of not having 
contributed to sufferings which he was called in too 
late to remedy. 

The more plastic practitioner has, it is true, taken 
fifty or a hundred guineas, it may be, out of the one 
pocket and put it into his own, but in what way are 
mankind benefited ? or does any one really think that 
the apparent gainer can ultimately be so? The fault 


in this, as in many other cases, is the ignorance of the 
public. There is nothing in the foregoing sketch that 
was not as easily intelligible to the commonest under- 
standing as that two and two are equal to four. And 
is it no evil, that one man should pay so large a sum 
for so plain a piece of honesty, or that another should 
be rewarded, as the case may be, for ignorance, or a 
compromise of his duty ? 

Let us take another case. A gentleman was called on 
to give a certificate ; he examined the case, and found 
that the wording of the certificate called on him to cer- 
tify to that which was diametrically opposite to the 
fact. He naturally declined, and, as the point was of 
some importance, went to the parties to explain. He 
was then informed that two professional men had the 
previous day given the certificate without hesitation. 
He is complimented on his conscientiousness, but nev- 
er employed again by that family; and he has the 
further satisfaction of hearing that his place is sup- 
plied by one of his accommodating brethren ! We fear 
that in such a case there is a balance to be adjusted 
between the several persons, and an appropriate appel- 
lation to be discovered besides. We respectfully leave 
it to the reader's judgment to adjust the one, and to 
draw on his aptitude for nomenclature to supply the 

In another case, a man is called in to a consultation; 
he disapproves of the treatment, but declares to the 
friends that every thing has been very properly done. 
Another is called in, and every thing having been real- 
ly conducted properly, he commences an apparently 
different treatment, but essentially the same, without 
giving his confiding brother the benefit which his ac- 


quiescence in his views would necessarily imply. In 
an operation where the course is doubtful and the opin- 
ion various, the choice is left to the patient — that is, 
the decision of how the surgeon is to act is to be de- 
termined by him who is confessedly really least capa- 
ble of judging. Can it be right to perform a doubtful 
operation under such circumstances ? Should not the 
patient reflect that the temptations are all on one side? 
The attempt to dispense with the operation is labori- 
ous, time-consuming, anxious, encouraged perhaps only 
by small, minute accessions of improvement, inter- 
spersed with complaints of tedium and delay, while 
the operation is a work of a few minutes, the re- 
muneration munificent, the eclat productive, and the 
labor nothing. All this and much more the best can 
not entirely prevent ; the real cause is the ignorance 
of the public, which a very little of the labor they be- 
stow on many far less important subjects would easily 
and quickly dispel. 

If^these and multitudes of similar things are evils ; 
if they contribute to debase a profession, and to charge 
the conscientious with unthankful office and unre- 
quited labor, and to confer fame and profit on a tri- 
umphant chicanery ; we surely must feel indebted, 
not only as professional men — not merely as patients, 
but in a far higher and wider sense — to a man who, 
availing himself of a commanding position for the high- 
est purposes, has endeavored, by precept and example, 
to oppose all such proceedings, and to cultivate a high 
morale in the conduot of the profession. Now no one 
more sedulously aimed at this effect than John Aber- 
nethy ; and although we shall not, we trust, be ao- 
oused of underrating the obligations we owe him in a 



professional or scientific sense, we think that, great as 
they are, they are at least equaled by those arising out 
of that duty-to-your-neighbor spirit which was so uni- 
versally diffused through every thing he taught, and 
which, in his intercourse, with his pupils, he never on 
any occasion failed to inculcate. We will endeavor to 
render what we mean intelligible, and perhaps we can 
not do this better than by selecting a few illustrations 
from observation of " Abernethy in Consultation." 


" Hoc autem de quo nunc agimus id ipsum est quod utile appella- 

Consultation. We are to have a consultation ! 
What a sound is that ! How many a heart has been 
set thumping by this one word. We doubt whether 
there be any in the English language that has more 
frequently disturbed the current it was intended to 
calm. But consultations must be. Already the car- 
riage of a physician has arrived, a tremendous rap has 
been given at the door, the interesting visitor is already 
in the library. Another rap, louder somewhat than the 
former, announces another physician, or a consulting 
surgeon. The general practitioner, taking advantage 
of his intimacy with the family, may have perhaps very 
sensibly walked in without knocking at all. They are 
now all assembled in the library, and having remarked 
on a " Storm Scene " by Gaspar Poussin which hangs 
over the fire-place, we leave them to the preliminaries 
of a consultation. 

Presently they are introduced to the patient, on whom 


the knocking has already produced some effect. A 
short pause, and they are again assembled in the libra- 
ry. In a few minutes the bell rings, and the father of 
a fine young woman is summoned to hear their decis- 
ion. As he proceeds, he stealthily removes a straggling 
tear tj^at, with all care, would get out of bounds, enters 
the library, and hears the result of the consultation. 
Neatly enveloped honoraria are presented to the con- 
sultants, the bell has rung, Thomas has shown the gen- 
tlemen to their respective vehicles, and so ends the 

The father, a widower, returns to the drawing-room, 
and his second daughter says, " Well, papa, what do 
the doctors say of Emily?" " Well, my dear, they say 
that Emily is very ill; that she requires great care; 
that they can not say positively, but they hope she may 
ultimately do well. They entirely coincide with our 
friend Mr. Smith Jones as to the nature of the disease, 
and think his treatment of the case has been highly 
judicious. They say there are some points on which 
the case may turn, but of which they can not speak 
positively to-day; but they hope to be able to do so 
when they meet again, which they are to do the day 
'after to-morrow.' They all seem to consider the nerv- 
ous system very much affected. They say we must 
keep Emily very quiet. She is to have any light diet 
she desires, and to have some new medicine to-morrow. 
The cod-liver-oil, they say, has done her all the good 
now that it is calculated to do, and she is this evening 
to take a composing draught." The family are silent, 
and so ends the consultation. 

What ! and are all consultations like that ? No, read- 
er, we hope not. Many a valuable life has, we believe, 


teen saved or prolonged by consultation, and perhaps 
many more would be, if people would only think a lit- 
tle more before they act in such important matters. 

But how is this to be, when men and women who 
do think will dive into all other branches of knowl- 
edge, more or less, and neglect all inquiry into Jaws, a 
general knowledge of which may easily be acquired, 
and of which ignorance is so frequently visited by no 
less punishment than the premature separation of our 
dearest ties, and the loss or impairment of that which 
is acknowledged to be the first of temporal blessings. 
There are many things in consultations which require 
putting right, which do not depend on any man or on 
any one class. What are we to say to a man who ad- 
mits the ability, and approves of the investigative power 
and practice of another, but who can not call him in 
because he orders so little medicine? Or of the mode 
in which the public treat another, who, wishing to prac- 
tice as a gentleman, and to be paid for his brains rather 
than his bottles, makes no charge for the latter, and yet 
who informed us that, having tried this for three years, 
he lost so many families by it, that, if he had not re- 
linquished the plan, he should have wanted bread for 
his own ? Or whom shall we blame when one man, call- 
ing in another to a patient, finds that this latter feels 
no scruple in repaying the prestige which he thus owes 
to his confiding brother by taking the patient from him 
the first opportunity, albeit that he occupies what should 
be, and, we trust, as the rule is, a higher walk in tho 
profession ? 

We have seen so much feeling arising from this prac- 
tice, and we hold it as so serious an error, that we re- 
gard it as tending more than any one thing whatever 


to injure the position and character of the consulting 
branches of the profession. 

Again, how inconsiderate must be the adoption of 
that custom which first of all institutes an inquiry to 
ascertain whether there is any difference of opinion, 
and yet accompanies it with trammels, the tendency 
of which is to oblige men to appear to agree. When 
coincidence of opinion is alone safe, who can be ex- 
pected to differ? The public have allowed the law- 
yers to differ without that difference involving any re- 
proach. They have also proverbially determined that 
"doctors do." Yet that which they regard as an al- 
most necessary rule in the one case, they are very prone 
to visit in regard to some one of the dissentients as a 
proof of professional inferiority in the other. A great 
deal of mischief results from this state of things; it in- 
definitely increases the difficulty of obtaining a really 
honest and unreserved opinion, and leads to other con- 
sequences which tend to impair that mutual confidence 
between man and man which should be the very life- 
blood of a fine profession. 

We recollect a case, on the nature of which two sur- 
geons were consulted; and when the patient — a young 
lady — had been withdrawn, the father requested to 
know if there were any objection to his being present 
at the conference. The surgeon to whom he seemed 
to address himself said, "None on my part," to which 
the other seemed to give consent. When the consult- 
ation was over, the surgeon who had thus seemed to 
consent addressed the other, saying, "If ever we meet 
again, Sir, our consultation must not be in the presence 
of the friends of the patient." This was said in a tone 
to which the other had not been accustomed ; but, as 


a lady had just then entered the room, no reply was 
made. The next morning, however, the gentleman was 
called on to reconsider the tone in which he had thus 
addressed his brother consultant, when a satisfactory 
explanation settled the matter. 

Such things, however, are extremely disagreeable, 
and illustrate how much more easy it is to go straight- 
forward than by any zigzag route. What! could not 
a father hear the honest opinion of two men concern- 
ing his child until the consultation had been shorn 
down and dovetailed together so as to be made a sym- 
metrical nondescript adapted to the requisitions of a 
vulgar conventionalism? 

In another case, in a consultation on a disease as 
plainly scrofulous as it was possible to be, the family 
attendant had pronounced that it was constitutional, 
but not scrofula. This was, it appeared, a miserable 
assentation to the prejudices of the family, for the re- 
sult proved that he knew better. Nevertheless, a con- 
sultation had taken place already with a very eminent 
surgeon, without the family being any the wiser in re- 
gard to the nature of the disease. The case not pro- 
gressing, another surgeon was consulted, who, being 
asked what he considered the disease to be, replied that 
it was scrofula. Upon this, considerable surprise and 
uneasiness was manifested on the part of the family; 
and the surgeon, wondering what, in so plain a case, 
could be the doubt, took occasion to see the former 
medical attendant, and to ask him what he thought of 
the case, when he said that it was clearly scrofula, and 
that he had never known the children of certain tem- 
peraments, to which he considered the parents to be- 
long, wholly without a tendency to that disease; so 


that he had all along been blinding the parents, so far 
as his opinion and that of another eminent man went, 
to the real nature of the malady. 

A singular occurrence, as we hope, took place one 
day in consultation, showing how comfortably the most 
questionable thing may appear to sit on a man's con- 
science if only supported by some supposed sanction 
frum custom. Two surgeons met to consider a case. 
They differed as to its nature and treatment, as thus: 
the one thought a certain remedy necessary, and that 
any prospective consequences on its employment merged 
into the necessity of the moment ; the other thought 
that remedy wholly unnecessary, and therefore held 
even the possibility of any prospective mischief an in- 
superable objection to its use; conceding, however, 
that it might possibly, if the treatment were conducted 
cautiously, be nevertheless so managed as to secure 
the patient from the consequences in question, and 
that, if the patient preferred that course after the mat- 
ter had been fairly stated to him, he would superin- 
tend the plan. 

Having retired into another room to consult, they 
were now again introduced to the patient, when the 
junior was somewhat startled to hear his senior begin 
thus: "Well, Sir, we have considered your case, and 
we perfectly agree as to the nature of it." Thinking 
that this unexpected exordium might possibly be pre- 
liminary to some explanation of the points on which 
they differed, the surgeon waited a minute to hear 
what followed ; but, finding that his brother was irre- 
mediably misrepresenting the matter, he said, "Stop! 
let us understand each other!" and then stated what 
had really happened, and the exact nature of their re- 


spective opinions ; on which the other, in the coolest 
manner possible, said, " Yes — exactly ; you are quite 
right !" and so ended the " consultation." 

There is, no doubt, some fault on all sides. The 
public are too uninformed on these important subjects, 
and therefore do much that is equally against their 
own interests, and the preservation of that dignity and 
respect which should ever attach to a high-missioned 
profession ; but is the profession itself free from blame? 
Do they never themselves minister to this wretched 
system of double dealing ? We fear there is but one 
answer to this question. We are not careful, for ob- 
vious reasons, to multiply examples of such things, 
but we are convinced that there must be a change ; 
and since the profession can not, as too many of the 
public may, plead ignorance, for this and a thousand 
other reasons they should lead the way. We only 
claim for ourselves what we readily concede to others, 
the expression of our opinion, when we say that con- 
sultations should be bona fide examinations of the case, 
and should be followed by bona fide intelligible ex- 
planations of it to the ■patient or his friends, according 
to the suggestions of ordinary prudence or humanity 
in the individual case. When the treatment is correct, 
the most honest proof should be afforded of it, namely, 
the continuance of the plan of the attendant in ordi- 
nary, unobscured by the farce or form of writing a pre- 
scription ; or, if additional appliance only is adopted, 
in such a case its subordinate character should be 
honestly explained. 

Where there is difference of view, if it be material, 
that also should be candidly stated ; and if this be 
done with real fairness, our experience has convinced 


us that it may be effected without damage to either 
party. In other differences of opinion the public nev- 
er think it necessary to impute ignorance or incapac- 
ity ; let them, for their own sakes, repudiate this con- 
struction in regard to the medical profession. Lastly, 
let them forever abandon the practice of paying any 
man for his bottles, the number of which will often be 
in an inverse ratio with his skill and judgment. But 
where is Abernethy ? 

No doubt Abernethy "s manner varied in consultation, 
but of this we shall speak in a separate chapter. We 
will here record our impressions as to " Abernethy in 
consultation;" the conditions which seemed to secure 
a considerate opinion from him; the good sense and 
reasonableness of those conditions ; the practical result 
of the observance of them, and the effect they were 
calculated to produce on the public, in giving to con- 
sultations that efficiency by which they should be 
characterized; an efficiency which every one begins to 
peroeive necessary, and which must equally be to the 
advantage of the public and the elevation of the pro- 


"Quidquid enim justum sit id etiara utile esse censent ; itemque 
quod honestum idem justum ex quo efficitur ut quidquid honestum 
sit idem sit utile." — Ciceho. 

The first thing in consulting Abernethy, if you were 
a medical man, was to be clear, and "well up" in the 
nature of the case, and the next thing, not to state any 
opinion unless you were prepared to give a good reason 



for it. These conditions premised, we never saw any 
one more unaffectedly deferential to the opinion of an- 

A surgeon took a serious case to him, in which the 
question was as to the removal of a very large tumor 
in the neck, which seemed to be acquiring connections 
of such depth and importance, and which threatened, 
should that step be desirable, to render the removal of 
it impossible. The patient was advised to allow his 
surgeon in ordinary to state his case, and to interrupt 
him only if he omitted any thing in regard to it with- 
in the patient's knowledge. This was done; the gen- 
eral habits of the patient described, with the difference 
which had existed antecedent to the age of thirty, 
and subsequent thereto. Mr. Abernethy examined the 

To the Surgeon. It is parotid, is it not? 

Surgeon. I think not, Sir. 

Abernethy (hastily). Why not? 

Surgeon. Because, Sir, reflecting on the depth and 
situation of the parotid gland, I hardly expect the tu- 
mor to be so movable. 

Abernethy. Ah, I see ! Very well. (Then to the 
patient.) Well, Sir, I should advise you to attend to 

your general health, and continue to follow Mr. 's 

advice on that subject. "What I say is — " then fol- 
lowed a short lecture on the digestive organs. 

Patient. Do you think, Sir, I shall get rid of it? 

Abernethy. Nay, I can not tell that ; but now sup- 
pose you pursue a plan steadily, say for a month, and 
the tumor does not increase, will it not be encouraging 
to you ? 

Patient. Certainly, Sir. 


Auernkthy. Well, then, try it; for if its removal 
should become necessary, you will at least be in better 
condition for the operation. If it does not get larger, 
or otherwise inconvenience you, let it alone. 

The patient had heard so much of Abernethy's 
roughness, that he came away equally pleased and as- 

A surgeon took a Colonel in the army to him with a 
case which was progressing fairly, but, as he conceived, 
in consequence of the patient not paying so much at- 
tention to his health as he was recommended to do, 
not so satisfactorily as he desired. The Colonel brief- 
ly stated his case. 

Abernbthy. Show me your tongue. Ah! that is 
bad enough. 

Colonel. You are quite right there. 

Abernbthy. Well, man, I don't require to be told 

Here the surgeon stated the treatment, which had, 
in addition to attention to the general health, involved 
some local administrations, of which, in general, Aber- 
nethy approved, but, as it would seem, not in this 
case. His difference of opinion he thus stated in the 
presence of the patient. 

"Well, I say that there is a sufficient disorder of 
your digestive organs to maintain the annoyances of 
which you complain ; and I should confine my atten- 
tion to endeavor to put that disorder right. Mr. 

seems to think that, in adding to this treatment the 
plan he proposes, he will shorten the case. Well, that 
may be so ; he has paid, I know, a good deal of atten- 
tion to this subject, and if I had one of my own fami- 
ly ill with this complaint, I should feel perfectly satis- 


fied if they were under his care. At the same time, I 
say what I think ; and if you do not find the general 
plan successful, then the means he proposes mighl 
with propriety be added." 

No harm resulted from this difference of opinion, 
but much benefit. The patient was not pleased with 
Abernethy, but he thought him very skillful and very 

One day a surgeon went to him under the following 
circumstances. A patient who had recently recovered 
from a lameness, which, as alleged, had its cause in 
the foot, on a relapse had gone to another surgeon. 
This gentleman had, as it ultimately appeared, hasti- 
ly decided that the lady had a complaint in the hip; 
■she was therefore consigned to bed, and then treated 
for disease of that part. After about three months, 
feeling no better, she desired to see the surgeon under 
whose care she had formerly been. 

The surgeon was now very much annoyed, for he 
found that he had been by many persons charged with 
having mistaken the case, which he had never even 
seen on the second attack, and which now presented 
a phase in which disease of the hip, to a hasty exam- 
iner, might easily be suggested. He was not much 
better satisfied when, after a careful examination of 
the case, he felt convinced that there was no disease 
in the hip, although the symptoms were more severe 
than ever. He declined undertaking the case without 
a previous consultation with the surgeon who had de- 
cided it to be a disease of the hip; but the patient 
being immovable in her opposition to the request, and 
sffering any other surgeon, or more if required, her 
wishes were acceded to, and Mr. Abernethy requested 


to visit the case. On going to the patient, the surgeon 
explained to Mr. Abernethy the points at issue, but 
without telling him to which view his own opinion in- 
clined, or the positive dictum of his senior brother, a 
very eminent surgeon. "I shall therefore," said he to 
Abernethy, " feel particularly obliged to you, Sir, if 
you will examine the case for yourself." 

When they were introduced to the lady, Abernethy 
said, "Well, now, I should be very well satisfied with 
Mr. 's report of your case, but he says I must ex- 
amine the limb for myself; so 'here goes;'" a some- 
what repulsive beginning to a delicate lady, perhaps; 
but nothing could be more cautiously gentle than his 
examination. In conducting it, he had avoided one 
test which usually does give a little pain. The other 
surgeon, deeming the decision to be very important, 
reminded him of this test (raising the limb and strik- 
ing the heel gently), which he then proceeded to do 
with equal gentleness. " That will do," said he ; "now, 
Sir, shall we go into another room?" "No, Sir," re- 
plied the surgeon; "if you please, Mr. Abernethy, I 
should prefer your at once telling the patient what is 
your opinion on the case." 

He then declared his opinion; but, fearing he might 
injure one or other party, with the following exordi- 
um : "Now, Madam, we are all liable to mistakes: 
there is no man living who does not make more or less, 
and I am sure I make mistakes, therefore I may do so 
in my opinion of your case ; but, for the life of me, I 
can not observe that you have any disease in your hip." 
He then gave a short but most lucid view of what he 
conceived to be the cause of her pain, and illustrated 
it by referring to something which happened to him- 


self in one of his own severe rheumatic attacks. The 
result proved that he was quite right as to his view of 
the case; the lady, by exercise and other means, which, 
had the hip been diseased, would have only exasper- 
ated her complaint, had a good recovery. 

One very great charm in Abernethy in consultation 
was that there was no difficulty in getting him to speak 
out. Some men are so afraid of being wrong, that 
they never give you the whole of their opinion in a 
case involving any difficulty. It is an obscure and a 
guarded prognosis, which sometimes amounts to no 
opinion at all. 

Even with surgeons who were very unobjectionable, 
Abernethy in his best manner contrasted very favorably. 
"We recollect being very much struck with this when 
very young. "We had to meet Mr. Cline and Mr. Aber- 
nethy within a few days of each other in the same case. 
Mr. Cline was very kind to the patient, elaborately civil ; 
nor was there any thing which could be fairly regard- 
ed as objectionable ; but his manner was too artificial ; 
the contrast in Abernethy was very agreeable. The 
case was serious, and, as we thought, hopeless. Aber- 
nethy, the moment he saw it, had his sympathies pain- 
fully awakened. Having asked a few questions, he, 
in the very kindest manner, said, "Well, I will tell 
you what I would do, were I in your situation." He 
then proceeded to direct how she should regulate her 
living, how avoid mischievous experiments, and went 
into a rather lengthy series of directions, in the most 
unaffected manner, without leaving the room or having 
any private consultation whatever. The lady, who was 
a distinguished person and a very accomplished wom- 
an, was exceedingly pleased with him. 


His manner, as we shall by-and-by admit, was occa- 
sionally rough, and sometimes rather prematurely truth- 
ful. One day he was called in consultation by a phy- 
sycian to give an opinion on a case of a pulsating tu- 
mor, which was pretty clearly an aneurism. On pro- 
ceeding to examine the tumor, he found a plaster on 
it, "What is this?" said Abernethy. "Oh! that is 
a plaster." " Pooh !" said Abernethy, taking it off and 
throwing it aside. " That was all very well," said the 
physician, " but that ' pooh' took several guineas out of 
my pocket." 

On the other hand, he never failed to give the warm- 
est and most efficient sanction he could to what he 
conceived to be judicious treatment on the part of the 
practitioner with whom he was in consultation. Mr. 
Stowe has kindly sent me a very good example of this, 
and it illustrates also another very valuable feature in 
a consultant — the forbearance from doing any thing 
where nothing is necessary. A gentleman had met 
with a severe accident, a compound dislocation of the 
ankle, an accident that Abernethy was the chief means 
of redeeming from habitual amputation. The accident 
happened near Winterslow Hut, on the road between 
Andover and Salisbury, and Mr. Davis, of Andover, was 
called in. Mr. Davis placed the parts right, and then 
said to the patient, "Now, when you get well, and 
have, as you most likely will, a stiff joint, your friends 
will tell you, 'Ah! you had a country doctor;' so, Sir, 
I would advise you to send for a London surgeon to 
confirm or correct what I have done." The patient con- 
sented, and sent to London for Abernethy, who reached 
the spot by the mail about two in the morning. He 
looked carefully at the limb, and saw that it was in a 


good position, and was told what had been done. He 
then said, "I am come a long way, Sir, to do nothing. 
I might, indeed, pretend to do something; but, as any 
avoidable motion of the limb must necessarily be mis- 
chievous, I should only do harm. You are in very good 
hands, and I dare say will do very well. You may in- 
deed come home with a stiff joint, but that is better 
than a wooden leg." He took a check for his fee, sixty 
guineas, and made his way back to London. 

Soon after this, an old clergyman in the same neigh- 
borhood had a violent attack of erysipelas in the head 
and arm. His family, becoming alarmed, wrote up to 
his brother, who resided near Bedford Row, to request 
Mr. Abernethy to go down and visit the patient. Aber- 
nethy said, " "Who attends your brother?" " Mr. Davis, 
of Andover." "Well, I told him all I knew about sur- 
gery, and I know that he has not forgotten it. You 
may be perfectly satisfied. I shall not go." Here, as 
Mr. Stowe observes, he might have had another sixty 

He always felt a great deal of interest about com- 
pound dislocations of the ankle-joint, because of his 
conviction that amputation, then so commonly resort- 
ed to, was unnecessary. He used to tell several cases 
in his lectures: one of them we will briefly relate here. 
It was that of a laboring man, who fell off a scaffold in 
his own neighborhood, and, among other surgeons, they 
had sent for Abernethy. When he got to the house, 
he found, he says, "a poor wee man lying on his mat- 
tress, with a very complete compound dislocation of the 
ankle-joint. The joint was completely exposed, and 
the torn skin was overlapping the edge of the bone." 
He placed the parts in their natural position, and drew 


the skin out of the rent; and when he had thus ad- 
justed it, as he says, a horrible accident looked as if 
there had been very little the matter. " Do you think, 
Sir," said Ihe poor little man, "that this can ever get 
well?" "Yes, verily," said Abernethy. "Do not be 
out of heart about it; I have known many such cases 
do well." " Why, Sir," said the man, " they have gone 
for the instruments." "I now found," said Abernethy, 
" that two other surgeons had seen him, and had de- 
termined that it was necessary to amputate. I felt 
that T had got into an embarrassing predicament, and 
was obliged to wait until these heroes returned. When 
they arrived, and saw the man lying so comfortably, 
they seemed a little staggered ; but one of them said, 
' Mr. Abernethy, you know the serious nature of these 
accidents, and can you give us an assurance that this 
will do well?' I said, 'No, certainly not; but if it 
does not do well, you can have recourse to amputation 
afterward, and my surgical character is pledged no 
further than this. I give you the assurance that no 
immediate mischief will come on to endanger the man's 
life. You may wait and see whether his constitution 
will allow him to do well.' I added, 'I feel that I am 
got rather into a scrape, so you must allow me to man- 
age, it in my own way.' So I got splints, put up the 
limb, varnished the plaster, and then told them about 
sponging it continually, so as never to allow any in- 
crease of temperature. Now there are two holds you 
have on a patient's mind — hope and fear — and I make 
use of both; so I said, 'If you lie perfectly still, you 
will do well, and if you move one jot, you will do ill — 
that's all.' " The remainder of the case need not be 
given. The man recovered, and saved his limb. 


We have referred to that case because, though relat- 
ing to a professional matter, there is a moral in it. He 
might easily have saved himself all the trouble he took, 
and on the plea of etiquette; but the poverty of the 
man pleaded for his limb, and the impossibility, in such 
a case, of the imputation of any wrong motive, left free 
exercise for the prevailing feature of Abernethy's char- 
acter — benevolence. The mention of the instruments 
secured to the poor man that persona/ attention to de- 
tails by Abernethy himself which a more wealthy pa- 
tient might not have so certainly obtained. 

We have remarked before on his kindness to hospi- 
tal patients, and sometimes the expression of their grat- 
itude would be very touching. It is difficult or im- 
possible to carry out Mr. Abernethy's principles of prac- 
tice with perfect efficiency in the atmosphere of a large 
hospital in a crowded city, yet the truth of his views 
would sometimes be impressed by very extraordinary 
and unexpected results. We select the following as 
an example, for reasons which will he suggested by 
the narrative. We are indebted to Mr. Stowe for the 
illustration, and as we should only mar the scene by 
any abbreviation, we must allow him to tell it in his 
own manner: 

" It was on his first going through the wards after 
a visit to Bath that, passing up between the rows of 
beds, with an immense crowd of pupils after him — my- 
self among the rest — the apparition of a poor Irishman, 
with the scantiest shirt I ever saw, jumping out of bed, 
and literally throwing himself on his knees at Aber- 
nethy's feet, presented itself. For some moments ev- 
ery body was bewildered ; but the poor fellow, with all 
his country's eloquence, poured out such a torrent of 


thanks, prayers, and blessings, and made such panto- 
mimic displays of his leg, that we were not long left 
in doubt. ' That's the leg, yer honnor ! Glory be to 
G-od ! Yer honnor's the boy to do it ! May the heav- 
ens be your bed ! Long life to your honnor ! To the 
divole with the spalpeens that said your honnor would 
cut it off!' &c. The man had come into the hospital 
about three months before with diseased ankle, and it 
had been at once condemned to amputation. Some- 
thing, however, induced Abernethy to try what rest 
and constitutional treatment would do for it, and with 
the happiest result. 

" With some difficulty the patient was got into bed, 
and Abernethy took the opportunity of giving us a 
clinieal lecture about diseases and their constitutional 
treatment. And now commenced the fun. Every sen- 
tence Abernethy uttered, Pat confirmed. ' Thrue, yer 
honnor, divole a lie in it. His honnor's the grate doch- 
tor entirely !' While at the slightest allusion to his 
case, off went the bed-clothes, and up went the leg, as 
if he were taking aim at the ceiling with it. ' That's 
it, by gorra ! and a bitther leg than the villin's that 
wanted to cut it off.' This was soon after I went to 
London, and I was much struck with Abernethy's 
manner; in the midst of the laughter, stooping down 
to the patient, he said, with much earnestness, ' 1 am 
glad your leg is doing well ; but never kneel, except 
to your Maker.' " 

The following letter, though containing nothing ex- 
traordinary, still shows his usual manner of addressing 
a patient by letter : 

" Sir, — In reply to your letter, I can only say what 
I must have said to you in part when you did me the 
honor of consulting me. 


" Firstly. That the restoration of the digestive or- 
gans to a tranquil and healthy state greatly depends 
on a strict observance of rational rules of diet. My 
opinions on this subject, which arc too long to be tran- 
scribed, are to be met with at page 72 of the first part 
of ' Abernethy's Surgical Observations,' published by 
Longman and Co., of Paternoster Row. 

" Secondly. Upon keeping the bowels clear, yet 
without irritating them by over-doses of aperient med- 

" Thirdly. I consider the blue pill as a pro-bilious 
medicine, and only urge that the dose be such as to do 
no harm if it fail to do good, and then to be taken per- 
severingly for some time, in order to determine wheth- 
er it will not slowly effect the object for which it was 
given. In gouty habits, carbonate of soda, &c, may 
be given, to neutralize acidity in the stomach, with 
light bitters; but the prescription of medicines of this 
kind, as also any advice relative to the cold bath, must 
rest with your medical attendant." 

Dated the 17th of September ; as usual, with him, 
without the year, which was about 1824. 

It is obvious that very few professional letters are 
adapted for introduction. This was one kindly sent 
us by Mr. Preston, of Norwich, and was written to a 
gentleman in Yorkshire. 

Few things were more pleasing or valuable in Aber- 
nethy than his modesty and his sense of justice. He 
knew his superiority well enough, but he measured it 
with reference to what was still beyond him, and not 
by the standard afforded by the knowledge of others. 
His sense of justice was, we think, never appealed to 
in vain. The following letter has appeared to us sig- 


nificant in relation to these points. Amid the peace- 
ful glories of a useful profession, there is nothing that 
sinks deeper or interests our regard more than a man. 
in the hour of success, remembering what is due to 
others. We think this remark particularly applicable 
to the late Mr. Tait, in the following case. The let- 
ter from Abernethy was obligingly sent us by Mr. Tait's 
son and successor. The remarks with which Mr. Tait 
concludes his case are as creditable to the writer as to 
him whom they were intended to honor. 

We have stated that Mr. Abernethy had been the 
first to extend the application of John Hunter's cele- 
brated operation for the cure of aneurism to a vessel 
nearer the heart (the external iliac urtery), on which 
Mr. Abernethy placed a ligature in 1797. Mr. Tait, 
of Glasgow, had an extraordinary case of aneurism in 
both lower extremities, so high up as to oblige him to 
place a ligature on the external iliac artery on both 
sides of the body. The case occurred in an old dra- 
goon, and the two operations were performed at separate 
times, with great judgment and with complete success. 
The case, of course, made some noise, and was highly 
creditable.* In closing his account of the patient, 
Mr. Tait observes: "The complete success which has 
attended these operations, while certainly it affords me 
one of the highest gratifications the practice of my 
profession can procure me, chiefly affects Mr. Aber- 

" Accident, has placed under my care a case which, 
so far as I know, is unparalleled in the history of sur- 
gery, and it has been cured ; but I have only put in 
practice what every surgeon of the day ought to have 
* Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. xxvi. 


done. When, thirty years ago, Mr. Abernethy formed 
the firm resolve of cutting open the walls of the abdo- 
men and seizing the external iliac artery, he made a 
mighty step in advance — he formed an epoch in the 
history of his profession. John Hunter, upon reflect- 
ing on the hemorrhage proceeding from the vessel be- 
low the sac, after an operation in 1779, when Mr. 
Broomfied, ' for security,' had tied the artery three or 
four inches above the aneurism, had probably the first 
glimpse at his great improvement of tying the artery 
in cases of aneurism nearer the heart. His eminent 
successor has extended the principles of the illustrious 

" So firmly impressed was Mr. Abernethy with the 
certainty of ultimate success, that, nothing daunted by 
the unfortunate issue of his two first cases, he perse- 
vered, and at length successfully secured the external 
iliac artery. His steps have been followed by a host, 
till at length it needed but such a case as mine to add 
the finishing touch to his well-earned fame. In doing 
justice to the merits of such men, we act but the part 
of prudence, since, if we do not, indignant posterity will. 
" Paisley, January, 1826." 

The following is Abernethy's reply to a communica- 
tion from Mr. Tait on the subject, and couched in a 
tone just in relation to Mr. Hunter, modest and char- 
acteristic as regards himself. 


" Dear Sir, — I have read your interesting case in 
the 'Edinburgh Journal,' but have no comments ic 
offer. I have thereforo only to thank you for the hon- 


orable mention you have made of me. The progress 
of science had given us reason to confide in the anas- 
tomosing* channels for carrying on the circulation. 
The only question necessary to be decided was, Would 
large arteries heal when tied ? Every case confirmed 
that point, and therefore there was little merit in per- 
severance. Nevertheless, I feel grateful for your good 
opinion, and with congratulation and best wishes, I am, 
dear Sir, yours very sincerely, John Abernethy. 

" Bedford Row, July 14." 
Post-mark 1826. 

The following portion of a note, necessarily muti- 
lated from the suppression of professional matter, we 
copy as a written evidence of his not in any way ap- 
pearing to alter or add to a treatment which he ap- 
proved. It is written to a highly esteemed member 
of our profession, Mr. Beaman, of King Street, Covent 
Garden. Mr. Beaman had sent a patient alone to Mr. 
Abernethy, who, having seen him, gave him the fol- 
lowing note : 

" My dear Sir, — The patient says (here the symp- 
toms referring to the point to be investigated are 
stated), and if this be true, I have no wish * * * # nor 
can I suggest better treatment than that which you 
have adopted. 

" Yours very sincerely, John Abernethy." 

No date ; post-mark 1825. 

The following letter to Mr. Wood, of Rochdale, reit- 
erates his opinion on a very important disease, contrac- 
tion of the gullet, or oesophagus, and conveys a practi- 

* The name applied to the collateral branches which carry on the 
circulation when the main artery of the limb is tied or obstructed. 


cal truth, which, if we may judge from the cases pub- 
lished in the periodicals, is just as necessary as ever. 
"We allude to the too officious use of instruments in 
this affection, a lesson of Abernethy's, of the practical 
excellence of which Mr. Wood had convinced himself 
by his own experience, as we ourselves have on many 

"My dear Sir, — I think as you do with regard to 
the difficulty of swallowing. It seems likely to be the 
effect of irritability of the stomach, and if so, the pass- 
ing of instruments, however soft and well-directed they 
may be, is not likely to be beneficial. 

"Indeed, I have seen so little good from such meas- 
ures, that I should feel reluctance to employing them 
until impelled by stronger necessity than exists in the 
present case. Spasmodic affection in the part is, as 
you know, exceedingly common, and continues for a 
great many years without producing permanent con- 
traction. "With respect to the main object of the treat- 
ment of this case, I can not say more than you are 
already acquainted with, and which is suggested at 
page 72. 

"I have of late been personally convinced of the ben- 
efit of the strictest attention to diet. Last summer 
my stomach was so disordered that it would not digest 
any thing, and I was constantly tormented by the chem- 
ical changes which the food underwent in that organ. 
I had scarcely any flesh on my bones, and sometimes 
every ten minutes was seized with rheumatic spasms, 
which were as general and severe as those of tetanus.* 
I went into the country, where I could get good milk 
* Loeked-jaw. 


and eggs, and lived upon three ounces of baked cus- 
tard taken three times a day, drinking four hours after 
each meal some boiled water that had been poured 
upon a small quantity of ginger. Upon this quantity 
of food I regained my flesh, and uniformly got better 
as long as I continued this plan of diet, which was but 
for one month, for then I returned to town. From the 
very first day I had no more of these spasms. As for 
medical treatment, I repeat that I oan not say more 
than you already know. It gives me pleasure to find 
that you are settled to your satisfaction. 

"I remain, my dear Sir, very sincerely yours, 

"John Abernetht. 

" Bedford Row, January 9." 



" Non ego paucis, 
Offendar maculis, quas aut incuria fudit, 
Aut humana parum cavit natura." — Horace. 

"I will not be offended by a few blemishes, the result of inatten- 
tion, or against which human frailty has not sufficiently guarded." 

Mankind have long established, by universal consent, 
the great importance of manner. It has been so ably 
and so variously described by different writers, that it 
is next to impossible to say any thing new on the sub- 
ject, or what has not been even better said already. 
Still it is equally true that it is a subject very much 
less cultivated than its influence demands, so that real- 
ly easy, good manners continue to be a very rare and 
enviable possession. But if manners be thus influen- 



tial in the ordinary intercourse of life, they are still 
more important in ministering to disease. People, 
when they are ill, have, for the wisest purposes, their 
susceptibilities more vivid, and it is happy for them 
when those in health have their sympathies, as is nat- 
ural, we think, that they should be wakened up in 
proportion. No doubt it is a great subtraction from 
whatever benefit the most skillful can confer, if it be 
administered in a dry, cold, unfeeling, or otherwise re- 
pulsive manner. There is, too, a very sound physiolog- 
ical as well as moral reason for kindness. It is dif- 
ficult to overrate the value of that calm which is some- 
times diffused over the whole system by the impres- 
sion that there is an unaffected sympathy in our suf- 
ferings. We must, of course, in our time have ob- 
served abundant varieties of manner in our profession- 
al brethren, and we have often listened with interest 
to conversations in society in which the manners of 
various medical men have been the subject of discus- 
sion, from which good listeners might, we think, have 
often taken valuable lessons. 

We are convinced that the disguise worn by some, 
of an artificial manner, leaves on many occasions no 
one more deceived than the wearer. Many patients 
have their perceptions remarkably quickened by indis- 
position, and will penetrate the thin vail of any form 
of affectation much more readily than people imagine. 
In common language, good feeling and kind manner 
are said to spring from the heart. If a man feels kind- 
ly, he will rarely express himself otherwise, except un- 
der some momentary impulse of impatience or indis- 

There is no doubt that the secret of a kind and con- 


ciliatory manner consists in the regulation of the feel- 
ings, and in carrying into the more trivial affairs of 
life that principle which we acknowledge as indispens- 
able in serious matters — of doing to others as we would 
they should do to us. 

We are not speaking of a polished manner; that is 
another affair. A man's manner to a patient may be 
unpolished, or as homely as you please ; but if he really 
feels a sympathy for his patient,, it will, with the ex- 
ception to be stated, never be coarse or unkind. 

Some men are absurdly pompous, others hard and 
cold : some put on a drawling, maudlin tone, which the 
most superficial observer detects as being affected. An 
honest sympathy is more acceptable than even a pol- 
ished manner, though doubtless that is a very desira- 
ble grace to a learned profession. 

In general, our own experience — and we know some- 
thing of indisposition in our own person — has induced 
us to judge favorably of the manners of medical men. 

There are, no doubt, exceptions, and sometimes in 
men in whom you would least expect it. We have 
known men "eye" a patient as if looking at some mi- 
nute object — some jocosely familiar. One man has an 
absurd gravity, another thinks he must be all smiles. 
We have known, too, the adoption of a tone inter- 
spersed with a religious solemnity. These, when put 
on, are generally detected, and of course always vul- 
gar. Some even say really rude and unfeeling things 
before any thing has happened to provoke them. We 
attended a gentleman who had a great deal of dry 
humor, and who was very amusing on such matters. 
One morning he said, "I saw Dr. on one occa- 
sion, and the first thing he said to me I thought ho 


might as well have omitted. ' I see, Sir,' said he, 
' that you have taken the shine out of your constitu- 
tion.' " 

Abernethy's manner was at times, and in all serious 
cases, and so far as we ever observed, to hospital pa- 
tients as unaffectedly kind as could be desired. It is 
too true that on many occasions of minor import, that 
impulsiveness of character which we have seen in the 
boy was still uncontrolled in the man, and led him to 
say things which, however we may palliate, we shall 
not attempt to excuse. 

It is true his roughness was very superficial ; it was 
the easiest thing in the world to develop the real kind- 
ness of heart which lay undoubtedly beneath it, and it 
is very instructive to observe how a very little yield- 
ing to an absurdity may occasionally obscure one of 
the most benevolent hearts that ever beat in a human 
breast with the repulsive exterior of ungentle manners. 
Still, patients could not be expected to know this, and 
therefore too many went away actually dissatisfied, if 
not disgusted. 

The slightest reaction was in general sufficient to 
bring him to his self-possession. A lady whom he had 
seen on former occasions was one day exceedingly hurt 
by his manner, and burst into tears. He immediately 
became as kind and patient as possible, and the lady 
came away just as pleased as she had been at first of- 

Reaction of a different kind would answer equally 
well. One day a gentleman consulted him on a pain- 
ful affection of his shoulder, which had been of a very 
excruciating character. Before he had time to enter 
on his case, Abernethy said, " Well, I know nothing 


about it!" The gentleman sharply retorted, " I do not 
know how you should ; but if you will have patience 
till I tell you, perhaps you then may." Abernethy at 
once said, "Sit down," and heard him out with the 
greatest kindness and patience. 

I am indebted to Thomas Chevasse, Esq., of Sutton 
Cold Field, Warwick, for the following letter to a pa- 
tient in Surrey, who had complained that he did not 
receive any sympathy from him. 

" Dear Sir, — I am sorry to have said any thing that 
has offended you. I may have felt, annoyed that I could 
not suggest any plan of treatment more directly cura- 
tive of your malady, and expressed myself pettishly 
when you did not seem to understand my meaning, for 
I am a fellow-sufferer, and had tried what are consid- 
ered to lie. appropriate remedies unavailingly. I assure 
you that I did not mean to hurt your feelings, and that 
I earnestly hope the state of your health will gradually 
improve, and that your local maladies will decline in 

"I am, dear Sir, your obedient servant, 

"John Abernethy. 
" Bedford Row, October 25." 

A surgeon was requested to visit a patient in one of 
the suburbs of the metropolis. When he arrived there, 
he had to mount two or three dilapidated steps, and to 
read a number which had been so nearly worn away, 
that he was enabled to determine if it was the num- 
ber he sought only by the more legible condition of its 
two neighbors. Having applied a very loose, dilapida- 
ted knocker, an old woman came to the door. 

" Does Captain live here?" 


"Yes, Sir." 

" Is he at home?" 

"Yes, Sir. Please, Sir — may I be so bold — are you 
the doctor, Sir?" 


"Oh! then, Sir, please to walk up." 

The surgeon went up a small, narrow stair-case into 
a moderate-sized, dirty, ill-furnished room, the walls of 
which were colored something between yellow and red, 
with a black border. An old man, in a very shabby 
and variegated deshabille, rose from his chair, and with 
a grace worthy of a court, welcomed the stranger. His 
manner was extremely gentlemanly, his language re- 
markably well chosen, and the statement of his corn- 
plaint particularly simple and clear. The surgeon, who, 
like most of us, see strange things, was puzzled to make 
out his new patient, but concluded he was one of the 
many who, having been born to better things, had been 
reduced, by some misfortune, to narrow circumstances. 
Every thing seemed to suggest that construction, and 
to warrant no other. Accordingly, having prescribed, 
the surgeon was about to take his leave, when the old 
gentleman said, 

" Sir, I thank you very much for your attention !" at 
the same time offering his hand, with a fee. 

This the surgeon declined, simply saying, 

" No, I thank you, Sir. I hope you will soon be bet- 
ter. Good-morning." 

"Stay, Sir!" said the old gentleman. "I shall in- 
sist on this, if you please," in a tone which at once 
made the surgeon feel that it would be painful and 
improper to refuse. He accordingly took it. The old 
gentlemen then said, " I am very much obliged to you, 


Sir; for, had you not taken your fee, I could not have 
again had the advantage of your advice. I sent for 
you because I had understood that you were a pupil 
of Mr. Abernethy's, for whom I could not send again, 
because he would not take his fee ; and I was so hurt, 
that I am afraid I was almost rude to him. I sup- 
pose, judging from the appearance of things here that 
I could not afford it, he refused his fee, on which I 
begged him not to be deceived by appearances, but to 
take it. However, he kept retreating and declining 
it, until, forgetting myself a little, and feeling some- 
what vexed, I said, ' By G — , Sir, I insist on your tak- 
ing it!' when he replied, ' By CI — , Sir, I will not!' and, 
hastily leaving the room, closed the door after him." 

This gentleman has been dead some years. He lived 
to a very advanced age — nearly, if not quite ninety — 
and had many instructive points of character. He 
was really in very good circumstances, but he lived in 
a very humble manner, to enable him to assist very 
efficiently some poor relations. To do this, he saved 
all that he could ; and although he insisted on the sur- 
geon taking a fee when he visited him, said that he 
should not hesitate to accept his kindness when he 
called on the surgeon. The intercourse continued many 
years, but with rather a curious result. 

After a time, growing infirmities converted what 
had been a visit — perhaps once or twice a year — into 
occasional attendances, when the rule he had pre- 
scribed to himself of paving visits at home became 
characterized by very numerous exceptions; and at 
last by so many, that the rule and the exception 
changed places. The surgeon, however, went on, 
thinking that the patient could not do other without 


disturbing existing arrangements. When, however, 
the old gentleman died, about four hundred guineas 
were found in his boxes, wrapped up, and in various 
sums, strongly suggestive of their having been (under 
the influence of a propensity too common in advancing 
life) savings from the somewhat unnecessary forbear- 
ance of his medical attendant. We know one other 
very similar occurrence. 

Sometimes Mr. Abernethy would meet with a pa- 
tient who would afford a useful lesson. A lady, the 
wife of a very distinguished musician, consulted him, 
and finding him uncourteous, said, "I had heard of 
your rudeness before I came, Sir, but I did not expect 
this." When Abernethy gave her the prescription, she 
said, "What am I to do with this?" 

"Any thing you like. Put it in the fire, if you 

The lady took him at his word — laid his fee on the 
table, and threw the prescription into the fire, and hast- 
ily left the room. Abernethy followed her into the 
hall, pressing her to take back her fee or to let him 
give her another prescription ; but the lady was inex- 
orable, and left the house. 

The foregoing is well authenticated; Mr. Stowe 
knows the lady well, who is still living; but many of 
these stories, to our own knowledge, were greatly ex- 
aggerated. Abernethy would sometimes offend, not 
so much by the manner as by the matter — by saying 
what were very salutary but very unpleasant truths, 
and of which the patient, perhaps, only felt the sting. 
We know a gentleman, an old fox-hunter, who abused 
Abernethy roundly; but all that he could say against 
him was, "Why, Sir, almost the moment I entered 


the room, he said, 'I perceive you drink a good deal' 
(which was very true). Now," added the patient, 
very naively, " suppose I did, what the devil was that 
to him ?" 

Another gentleman of considerable literary reputa- 
tion, but who, as regarded drinking, was not intemper- 
ate, had a most unfortunate appearance on his nose, 
exactly like that which accompanies dram-drinking. 
This gentleman used to be exceedingly irate against 
Abernethy, although all I could gather from him 
amounted to nothing more than this, that when he 
said his stomach was out of order, Abernethy said, 
" Ay, I see that by your nose," or some equivalent ex- 

However rough Abernethy could occasionally be, 
there was, on grave occasions, no feature of his char- 
acter more striking than his humanity. Dr. Barnet 
had a case where Abernethy was about to perform a 
severe operation. Dr. B., at that time a young man, 
was very anxious to have every thing duly prepared, 
and had been very careful. When Abernethy arrived, 
he went into the room in which the patient was to be 
brought, and looking on the instruments, &c, on the 
table, said, "Ay, yes, that is all right;" then, pausing 
for a moment, he said, " No, there is one thing you have 
forgotten ;" and then throwing a napkin over the in- 
struments, added, " It is bad enough for the poor pa- 
tient to have to undergo an operation, without being 
obliged to see these terrible instruments." 

Few people get off so badly in the world as poor gen- 
tlemen. There are multifarious provisions in this king- 
dom for all sorts of claimants, but a poor gentleman 
slips down between those which are not applicable to 


his case, and those which are too repulsive to be prac- 
ticable. His sensibilities remain, nay, perhaps are 
sharpened, and thus tend to increase his wants, and 
the difficulty of supplying them. There is here afford- 
ed a grateful opportunity for the indulgence of what 
we believe, amid some exceptions, to be the ruling 
spirit of medical men; a sensitive philanthropy, which 
no men in the world are more liberal in disbursing'. 
Abernethy had his full share of this excellence. There 
are multitudes of instances exemplifying it; we give 
one, for which we are obliged to Mr. Brown, of the re- 
spected firm of Longman and Co. Abernethy was just 
stopping into his carriage to go and see the Duke of 

, to whom he had been sent for in a hurry, when 

a gentleman stopped him to say that he should be very 

glad if he could, at his leisure, pay Mr. another 

visit at Somers Town. Abernethy had seen this poor 
gentleman before, and advised a course which it ap- 
peared the patient had not resolution to follow. " Why," 
said Abernethy, "I can't go now; I am going in haste 

to see the Duke of ." Then pausing a moment 

before he stepped into the carriage, he looked up to the 
coachman and said quietly, " Somers Town." This is 
very characteristic: the fidgety irritability of his first 
impression at interference, and the beneficence of his 
second thought. 

Dr. Thomas Rees knew a gentleman who was a man 
of ability, who had been a long time ill, and who got a 
scanty living by his writings. Dr. Rees called on Aber- 
nethy one morning, and told him that the gentleman 
wished very much for his opinion, but that he had 
heard such accounts of him, he was half afraid to see 
him. "And if he were not," said Dr. Rees, "he is not 


able to pay you. He is a great sufferer, and he gets 
his living by working his brains." "Ah!" said Aber- 

nethy, " where does he live, do you say ?" " At ," 

mentioning a place full two miles distant. Abernethy 
immediately rang the bell, ordered his carriage, visited 
the gentleman, and was most kind to him. 

One day a pupil wished to consult him, and found 
him about ten minutes before lecture in the museum, 
looking over his preparations for lecture — rather a dan- 
gerous time, we should have said, for consultation. "I 
am afraid, Sir," said the pupil, "that I have a polypus 
in my nose, and I want you to look at. it." No answer; 
but when he had sorted his preparations, he said, "Eh? 
What!" The pupil repeated his request. "Then stand 
upon your head ; don't you see that all the light here 
conies from a skylight? How am I to look up your 
nose? Where do you live?" "Bartholomew Close." 
"What time do you get up?" "At eight." "That 
can't be, then." "What, Sir?" "You can not be at 
Bedford Row at nine ?" " Yes, Sir, I will." " To-mor- 
row morning, then." The pupil was punctual. Mr. 
Abernethy made a most careful examination of his 
nose, entered into the causes and nature of polypi, as- 
sured him that there was nothing of the sort, and ex- 
acted from him a promise that he would never look 
into his nose again. The gentleman, in his letter to 
me, adds, "This I have never done, and I am happy 
to say that there has never been any thing the mat- 

He was indeed, as it appeared to us, most liberal in 
the mode of conducting his practice. When asked by 
a patient when he desired to see them again, it was at 
the longest period compatible with a reasonable obser- 


vation of the case ; and we doubt whether he ever took 
a fee where he had even a doubt as to the circumstan- 
ces of the patient justifying his so doing. It would be 
easy to multiply examples of this, but it would be a 
constructive injustice to our profession to appear to 
bring things out in high relief, or as special excellen- 
ces, which (notwithstanding some exceptions) from our 
hearts we believe to be a prevailing characteristic of 
the profession. 

Abernethy had nearly all his life, without being im- 
provident, been habitually careless of money ; and al- 
though he left his family with a comfortable compe- 
tency, which very properly left their position unaltered 
by his death, yet we doubt if ever any man, with the 
opportunity of making so much, availed himself of that 
opportunity so little. 

It had become the fashion in Abernethy's latter days 
to speak lightly of him as an operator, and we have 
very little desire to rest any portion of his reputation 
on this branch of our duty. Nevertheless, when we 
first knew Abernethy, if we had had to be the subject 
of an operation, we knew no man to whom we should 
have submitted with the same confidence. He was 
considerate and humane ; he did as he would be done 
by ; and we have seen him perform those operations 
which are usually regarded as the most difficult as well 
as ever we have seen them performed by any body, 
and without any of that display or effect too often ob- 
served, and which is equally misplaced and disgusting. 

His benevolent disposition led him to feel a great 
deal in regard to operations. Like Cheselden and 
Hunter, he regarded them, as in a scientific sense they 
truly are, the reproach of the profession, since, with the 


exception of such as become necessary from accidents, 
they are almost all of them consequent on the imper- 
fection of Surgery as a science. 

Hi_ghly impulsive, Abernethy could not at all times 
prevent the expression of his feelings, when perhaps his 
humanity was most earnestly engaged in the suppres- 
sion of them. It was usually an additional trial to him 
when a patient bore pain with fortitude. 

One day he was performing rather a severe opera- 
tion on a woman. He had, before commencing, said 
a few words of encouragement, as was usual with him, 
and the patient was bearing the operation with great 
fortitude. After suffering some seconds, she very earn- 
estly but firmly said, " I hope, Sir, it will not be long." 
"No, indeed," earnestly replied Abernethy, "that would 
be too horrible." 

In fact, he held operations altogether as occupying 
so low a place in our duties, and as having so little to 
do with the science of our profession, that there was 
very little in most of them to set against that repulsion 
which both his science and his humanity suggested. 

As he advanced in life, his dislike to operations in- 
creased. He was apt to be fidgety and impatient. If 
things went smoothly, it was all very well, but if any 
untoward occurrence took place, he suffered a good 
deal, and it became unpleasant to assist him, but he 
was never unkind to the patient. It is, however, not 
always easy to estimate correctly the amount of opera- 
tive dexterity. Hardly any man will perform a dozen 
operations in the same manner. We have seen a very 
bungling operator 'occasionally perform an operation 
extremely well, while the very worst operation we ever 
saw was performed by a man whose fame rested almost 


entirely on his dexterity, and what made it the more 
startling was that it was nothing more than taking up 
the femoral artery. But whether it were that he was 
not well, or had been careless in the site of the first in- 
cision, or in opening the sheath of the vessels before he 
passed his ligature, or all of these causes in conjunc- 
tion, we could not tell, because we were not quite near 
enough, but we never witnessed a more clumsy affair. 

The conditions calculated to insure good operating 
are few and simple; there are both moral and medical 
conditions, but no familiarity ever enables a surgeon 
on any occasion safely to dispense with any of them. 
When they are all observed, operating usually becomes 
steady and uniform ; when any of them are dispensed 
with or wanting, there is always risk of error and con- 

We are afraid that we should be hardly excused, in 
a work of this kind, were we to lay down the canons 
to which we allude. We must therefore, at present, 
not enter further into the subject. 

We must find space for a few remarks on the causes 
of Abernethy's occasional irritability, but we must not 
omit to mention a hoax that was played on him. He 
had been in particularly good spirits, as hilarious as a 
boy, and had proposed going to the theatre, where he 
had enjoyed himself very much. On reaching home, 
there was a message desiring his attendance at Har- 
row. This was a very unwelcome finale. The hoax 
had been clumsily managed, but it did not strike any 
body at the moment, so it was decided that Mr. Aber- 
nethy must go, and he took Mr. Skey with him. When 
they got to Harrow, they drove to the house of the 
surgeon, and, knocking him up, he came to the win- 


dow in his night-cap, when the following dialogue be- 
gan. The name of the patient we shall suppose to be 

" Does Mr. Wilson live here?" 

" Who are you ?" 

" I say, then, is Mr. Wilson living here ?" 

" I say, what do you want ? Who the d — 1 are 

" I say that I want to find a Mr. Wilson ; and my 
name is Abernethy." 

Immediately, says Mr. Skey, off flew the night-cap. 

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Abernethy ; what can I do 
for you ?" &c. 

" Is there a Mr. Wilson living here ? and has he 
broken his leg ?" 

" Oh yes, Sir, he is living here, but he is very well, 
and has not met with any thing of the kind." 

Abernethy laughed heartily, and ordered the post- 
boy to drive him home again. 

There would be no difficulty in multiplying anec- 
dotes given to Abernethy ; but there are some objec- 
tions to such a course. In the first place, there are 
many told of him which never happened ; others, which 
may probably have happened, you find it impossible to 
authenticate ; and, lastly, there is a third class, which, 
if they happened to Abernethy, certainly happened to 
others before Abernethy was born. In fact, when a 
man once gets a reputation of doing or saying odd 
things, every story in which the chief person is un- 
known or unremembered is given to the man whose 
reputation in this way is most remarkable. We need 
not say how impossible it is in a memoir of this kind 
to introduce with propriety matter thus apocryphal. 


We have no doubt that, with a most benevolent dispo- 
sition, Abernethy's manner, particularly as he advanced 
in years, evinced great irritability ; and we believe 
that it was the result of two or three different causes, 
which in their combined influence got a mastery which 
the utmost resolution was not at all times able to con- 
trol. It had formed the subject of numerous conversa- 
tions between Abernethy and some of his most intimate 
friends, and we believe had arisen, and been unconsci- 
ously fostered by the following causes : "In early life 
he had been," as he told Dr. Thomas Rees, "particu- 
larly disgusted with the manner in which he had seen 
patients caressed and 'humbugged' by smooth and flat- 
tering modes of proceeding, and that he had early re- 
solved to avoid that, at all events." He further ob- 
served, "I tried to learn my profession, and thinking I 
could teach it, I educated myself to do so ; but as for 
private practice, of course I am obliged to do that too." 
We can easily understand how, in a sensitive mind, 
an anxiety to avoid an imputation of one land might 
have led to an opposite extreme, and thus a negligence 
of ordinary courtesy might have taken the place of a 
disgusting assentation. 

No doubt, however, a temper naturally impulsive 
would find in the perplexities which occasionally beset 
the practice of our profession too many occasions when 
the suggestions of spirit, which, though not always 
unwelcome to ruffled temper, and those of fear of im- 
proper assentation would unfortunately coincide, and 
thus lead to intermix and confound the observance of 
a praiseworthy caution with a yielding to an insidious 
habit. If to this were now added that increase of irri- 
tability which a disturbed and fidgety state of physique 


never fails to furnish, and from which Abernethy 
greatly suffered, the habit would soon become domin- 
ant, and thus an originally good motive, left unguard- 
ed, be supplanted by an uncontrolled impulse. We 
believe this to have been the short explanation of Aber- 
nethy's manner ; all we know of him seems to admit 
of this explanation. It was a habit, and required noth- 
ing but a check from his humanity or his good sense 
to correct it; but then this was just that which pa- 
tients were not likely to k«now, and could have been 
still less expected to elicit. 

Again, most men so celebrated are sure to be more 
or less spoiled. They become themselves insensibly 
influenced by that assentation which they have so just- 
ly despised in others. The moral seems to be, that the 
impulses of the most benevolent heart may be obscured 
or frustrated by an irritable temper ; that habits the 
most faulty may rise from motives which in their ori- 
gin were pure or praiseworthy ; that it is the character 
of vice to tempt us by small beginnings ; that, know- 
ing her own deformity, she seldom fails to recommend 
herself as the representative, and too often to assume 
the garb of virtue ; that the most just and benevolent 
are not safe, unless habitual self-government preside 
over the dictates of the intellect and the heart; and 
that the impulse to which assent is yielded to-day, may 
exert the influence of a command to-morrow ; that, in 
fact, we must be masters or slaves. 

" Rege animum qui nisi paret 

When the editors of the medical periodicals first be- 
gan to publish the lectures given at the different hos- 


pitals, there was considerable discussion as to the pro- 
priety of so doing. The press, of course, defended its 
own views, in a spirit which, though not always un- 
welcome, to readers, is frequently "wormwood" to the 
parties to whom the press may be opposed. 

We are not lawyers, and therefore have no claim to 
an opinion, we suppose, on the right; but as regards 
the general effect, of this custom as now practiced, we 
are afraid that, however advantageous it may be to the 
trade to obtain gratuitously these bulky contributions 
to their columns, we have serious doubts if it be any 
advantage to science, or to the character of our period- 
ical literature. 

The publicity which it gives to a man's name in- 
duces men to contribute matter which it would often 
have been, perhaps, more advantageous to them to have 
t oppressed ; and the proprietors, so long as a periodical 
" pays," are not likely to quarrel with that which they 
get for nothing but the expense of publication. 

Mr. Abernethy was very much opposed to the pub- 
lication of his lectures ; but, though not insensible by 
any means to the occasionally caustic remarks of the 
press, does not seem to have been much annoyed by 

The following is an extract from a letter, in which 
he expresses himself as opposed to the conduct of those 
who publish lectures without the permission of the au- 
thors. We suppress that part, because it involves his 
opinion of the conduct of individuals. As regards his 
personal feelings, he says, 

" Though I have been so long in replying to your 
letter, I have felt very grateful for the kindness which 
induced you to take up the cudgels in my behalf. At 


the same time, I must say that, had I been at your el- 
bow, I should have hinted to you that the object was 
not worth the trouble you have been so good as to be- 
stow upon it. No one can expect to escape slander 
and misrepresentation, and these are so commonly be- 
stowed upon all, that they have little or no influence 
on the minds of persons of character and judgment. 

" With many thanks and best wishes, I remain, my 
dear Sir, yours very sincerely, 

" John Abernethy." 


When Mr. Abernethy was appointed surgeon to St. 
Bartholomew's Hospital in 1815, he had already been 
twenty-eight years assistant surgeon, and was there- 
fore fifty years of age before he had an opportunity of 
taking an active share in the practical administration 
of the Hospital. This is one of the many effects of a 
system of which we shall presently give a sketch. He 
was therefore invested with the additional duties of 
Surgeon to the Hospital and Professor to the College of 
Surgeons at a time of life when most people who have 
commenced young, and labored hard with their intel- 
lects as distinguished from their hands, begin to feel 
their work. This was the case with Abernethy. We do 
not think that his original physical organization was to 
be complained of; he had been active and energetic; 
he was of moderate stature and well proportioned ; had 
a magnificently-poised brain, judging phrenologically, 
and, in short, under favorable circumstances, apparent- 
ly had the elements of long life; but we think that his 
organization, and especially the presiding power, the 
nervous system, was ill adapted either for the air, the 


anxieties, or the habits of a crowded city, or the some- 
what pestilential atmosphere of a dissecting-room. 

We saw him, therefore, ageing at fifty very sensibly, 
and rather more than is in general observable at that 
period. He complained in 1817 of the fatigue of the 
College lectures, coming as they did on the comple- 
tion of a season of the "mill-round of hospital tuition 
and practice ;" so that when we mentioned the period 
of his lectures at the College as on so many accounts 
the zenith of his career, there was the serious draw- 
back arising from a certain diminution of strength, 
which had never been, at best, equal to the physical 
fatigue of his multiform avocations. All this arose 
partly out of a system which, although, like all errors, 
not allowed to proceed without being charged with ele- 
ments of remotely prospective correction, has been the 
parent of much mischief. This is what we have call- 
ed the "hospital system," some of the more important 
features of which we must now present to our readers. 



"Non hffic sine numine Divum. 

^Eneid, lib. ii., 1. 777. 

If we would view any human institution dispassion- 
ately, we must distinguish the vices of system from the 
faults of those who administer it. 

Trite as this remark may be, it is just one which is 
too frequently overlooked or unobserved. By a careful 
attention to the distinction it implies, we may develop 


the elements of rational reform, as contrasted with Uto- 
pian schemes, which, whatever of abstract truth they 
may contain, are useless, simply because they are im- 
practicable. We can not effect any material change 
in human nature by any summary legislation, nor pre- 
vent the obtrusive necessities of daily life from bring- 
ing down the soaring aspirations of mind to the hum- 
ble level of the practicabilities of matter. Whoever, 
therefore, expects that any body of men, invested with 
irresponsible power, will hesitate to exercise it so as to 
procure, as they believe, the maximum of advantage to 
Ihemselves, might just as hopefully quarrel with the 
negro on account of his complexion. Do what you 
may, Man is Man " for a' that;'' but while it is neces- 
sary to remember this, it is by no means so to do it in 
a spirit of unkindness or hostility — not in any sense 
opposed to brotherly love ; but, on the contrary, to pro- 
mote universal harmony and good feeling by removing 
the temptations which experience has shown to be in- 
fluential in disturbing such relations. 

Neither should we quarrel with a man who endeav- 
ors to do the best he can for his family and friends. 
Should he even, in this pursuit, compromise his duty to 
the public, it is very possible that (he objects which he 
had in view may have been in themselves praiseworthy, 
and therefore, instead of exasperating our blame, may 
readily extenuate faults which it may be impossible 
entirely to excuse. 

The truth is, that the interest of the public and of 
individuals is seldom, if ever, incompatible; the occa- 
sions on which they appear to be so are not unfre- 
quent ; those in which they really clash are extreme- 
ly rare. 


Wherever circumstances occur in which the tempt- 
ation of a present fruition is found habitually to lead 
men to courses which, however apparently promotive 
of their own interest, are really injurious to those of 
the public; it becomes very necessary that the public 
should impose some safeguards against such an inju- 
rious exercise of power. 

The hospitals of London, as we have formerly ob- 
served, are in the main very fine institutions. They 
are many of them very wealthy, which generally means 
powerful also. 

The governors, as they are termed, consist of certain 
noblemen and gentlemen, the latter being for the most 
part drawn from the more wealthy sections of the mer- 
cantile and trading classes of society. 

The knowledge possessed by these gentlemen of the 
requisitions of a large public hospital must (special in- 
stances excepted) be very measured, and be, in the 
main, derived from the medical officers with whom 
they are associated. 

It thus happens that the administration of the hos- 
pital is in great part confided, as with some restrictions 
it ought to be, to the medical officers. The interests 
of these gentlemen, it may be assumed, would be best 
promoted by carrying out in the most efficient manner 
the benevolent objects of the institution, and we be- 
lieve, looked at fairly and comprehensively, this would 
he really the case. The duties of a large hospital, 
however, if they are to be performed conscientiously, 
require much time, not a little labor, and some health 
to boot. Now all these, in a crowded community, are 
very costly articles, and which must in justice, and 
what is material, in fact too, be fairly remunerated. 


The public never really pay so dearly as when they 
appear to get labor for nothing. 

Here we come to the first defect in the "Hospital 

It might be supposed that, with ample means, the 
hospitals, by adopting such tests as were in their power, 
would have secured the most efficient officers, by pay- 
ing them remunerative salaries; and having retained 
them as long as their services were deemed efficient, 
or the length of them justified, by relieving them from 
the necessity of further exertion by a retiring pension. 
No such thing. The hospital gives nothing; actually, 
there is a small nominal retaining fee, as it were, of 
about .£60 a year, and the medical officer is left to 
obtain his remuneration for time, trouble, and health 
by such private practice as his reputation, or the pres- 
tige of being attached to a hospital may afford, from 
fees from pupils, or such other means as the position 
he occupies may place within his power. 

He very naturally sets to work to do the best he can, 
and from this first budding we very soon arrive at the 
full blossom of the system ; one effect of which is, that 
in hospitals which have so large a care of the public 
health — institutions which, whether correctly or incor- 
rectly, give so much of the tone to the medical opin- 
ions of the day — which exert, either directly or indi- 
rectly, an influence on the claims of hundreds to pub- 
lic confidence — in these hospitals there is not one sin- 
gle surgeoncy that is fairly and bona fide open to sci- 
entific competition. 

Let us now examine a little into the machinery by 
which these results are brought out. 

The experience afforded by the hospitals necessarily 


supplies abundant means of instructing students in 
surgery. They are accordingly admitted on paying 
certain fees to the surgeon, and this at once supplies 
a large revenue. This revenue is of course regulated 
by the number of pupils, and there are in London many 
hospitals, so of course there is an active competition. 
Thus, some time before the season commences, the ad- 
vertisements of the medical schools occupy a consider- 
able space in the Times newspaper, and circulars are 
also liberally distributed. 

Well, the points here, as in all other cases, are the 
advantages offered and the price paid — the maximum 
and minimum respectively. Nowhere there are some 
elements of evil. 

Students are not always, and before they try it, 
hardly ever judges of a school. The general reputa- 
tion of a man, as he is never subjected to competition, 
is no test whatever of his comparative power in teach- 
ing students ; but they are accustomed to ascribe great 
importance to operations, and, cateris paribus, they in- 
cline to prefer that hospital where the greatest num- 
ber of them are supposed to be performed. 

This arises from various causes, in some of which 
the public play no unimportant part. The student has 
perhaps seen in the country a good deal of medical and 
surgical practice, but very few operations. His stay 
in London is comparatively short, averaging perhaps 
not more than the better part, of two years ; unneces- 
sary length of time is generally inconvenient, always 
expensive, and the student is naturally anxious to see 
most of that which he will have least opportunity of 
observing elsewhere. Moreover, he knows that when 
he returns to the country he may save twenty limbs 


before he obtains the same amount of reputation, that 
he may possibly get by one amputation. 

The ignorance of the public here is in not apprecia- 
ting results which very probably involved the exercise 
of the highest talent, while they are ready to confer a 
very profitable distinction on that which does not nec- 
essarily involve any talent at all. We have no wish 
whatever, and certainly there is no necessity, for strain- 
ing any point in reference to this very serious matter; 
but these two facts are indisputable : that the sur- 
geons obtain their remuneration from the hospitals by 
the fees they obtain from the pupils ; and, cceteris pari- 
bus, the pupils will flock the thickest where they ex- 
pect to see most operations. 

The next thing that we would submit is that the 
prestige in favor of operations is both directly and in- 
directly opposed to the progress of scientific surgery. 
Almost all operations, commonly so termed, are exam- 
ples of defective science. To practical common sense, 
therefore, it would appear a very infelicitous mode of 
obtaining the maximum of a man's genius in aid of 
the diminution of operations, to open to him a prospect 
of enriching himself by the multiplication of them. We 
desire to consider the subject with reference to its scien- 
tific bearings only, and would avoid entirely, were that 
possible, any appeal merely to the feelings. Such im- 
pulses, however right, are apt to be paroxysmal and un- 
certain unless supported by the intellect. But on such 
a subject the feelings must necessarily become more or 
less interested. Wherever a system takes a wrong di- 
rection, a great many minor evils insensibly grow out 
of it. 

The erection of a theatre for the purpose of opera- 


ting, though founded on a feasible pretext, is a very 
questionable measure, and, unless of clear advantage 
to the profession or the public, is surely not without 
some character of repulsion. As regards art or sci- 
ence, it is certain that not more than twenty or thirty 
can be near enough in the theatre to see any thing thut 
can be really instructive in the performance of opera- 
tions, while, in the absence of actual advantages, an 
exhibition of this kind is more calculated to give pub- 
licity to the surgeon operating, than it is to raise the 
tone or chasten the feelings of men about to enter a 
profession which almost daily establishes requisitions 
for our highest faculties — operations without opportu- 
nities of real instruction are merely unprofitable ex- 
penditure of valuable time. Besides, that which is 
viewed as a sort of exhibition to-day, may be with dif- 
ficulty regarded in the light of a serious duty to-mor- 
row. Were the object to tax the sensibility of a stu- 
dent, and blind him to any higher association with pain 
and suffering than that, afforded by custom and chloro- 
form, and to replace a dignified self-possession and 
sympathy with suffering, which each kept the other in 
due control, byan indifference to every thingsave adroit- 
ness of manipulation and mechanical display, no ma- 
chinery could be better calculated to effect such ob- 
jects; but science and humanity require very differ- 
ent qualifications, and experience has shown that they 
are neither incompatible nor beyond our power. 

The humanity and science that beholds in operative 
surgery the lowes 1 of our employments, and which 
would thus be impelled to seek, and, as experience 
has taught us, to seek successfully to diminish the 
number of such exhibitions, and to lessen the suffering 


of those which are still retained, is perfectly compati- 
ble with coolness and skill in the performance of them. 
When we speak of lessening pain, we must not be 
understood as alluding to chloroform or agencies of 
that kind. We have, on the contrary, the greatest dis- 
trust of their utility ; we do not hesitate to admit the 
propriety of their use in certain cases, but we are satis- 
fied that, as at present employed, a very few years will 
make a great change. Many a so-called incurable case 
has been shown to be curable by the hesitation of the 
patient to submit to an operation. We have published 
some ourselves wherein we joined in recommending 
the measure which the patient declined. Many deaths 
that we do know have already occurred from the use 
of chloroform ; and a significant remark was made by 
a man who had considerable reputation in this way : 
he said, " Chloroform is a good thing for operating 
surgeons." To return from this digression. 

The most distinguished surgeons ever produced in 
this country have exemplified the qualities I have men- 
tioned in the highest degree. I must mention two 
more particularly, Cheselden and John Hunter ; the 
former, the most expert and successful of his day, in the 
European sense of the word, has left us a satisfactory 
declaration on this subject. Cheselden acknowledges 
that he seldom slept much the night previous to the day 
on which he had any important operation ; but that, 
once engaged in operating, he was always firm, and 
his hand never trembled. John Hunter was not only a 
good operator himself, but he deduced from observation 
one of the greatest improvements in operative surgery. 
His discovery had all the elements of improvement 
that are possible in this branch of the profession. 


An operation which had been founded upon erroneous 
views of the nature and relations of the parts affected — 
which had been always tedious and painful in perform- 
ance — which, whether successful or not, entailed much 
subsequent suffering — which in its results was highly 
dangerous, and which was very commonly followed by 
the loss of the limb or life, was replaced by one founded 
on more correct views of the disease, easy and simple in 
its execution, occupying not more than a very few min- 
utes, and which, so far as regards the purpose for which 
it was instituted, and to which it should be restricted, 
is almost invariably successful. If it be performed un- 
der circumstances implying conditions contrary to those 
on which Mr. Hunter's operation was founded, very 
different results have no doubt taken place ; but when 
properly applied, his operation for aneurism is no doubt 
one of the greatest in operative surgery. 

John Hunter treats of operations in terms which 
show how low he rated that part of our duties. He 
speaks of them as humiliating examples of the imper- 
fection of our science, and figures to himself an oper- 
ator under the repulsive symbol of an armed savage.* 
The truth is, that operations, to be performed properly, 
must be properly studied. They must be frequently 
performed on the dead, and afterward carefully exam- 
ined. There is a wide difference between neglecting 
a necessary study and making that the test of science, 
which is the most emphatic proof of its imperfection. 
We have no lack of experience in this branch of the 

* He says, " No surgeon should approach the victim of his opera- 
tion without a sacred dread and reluctance, and should be superior 
to that popular eclat generally attending painful operations, often only 
because they are so, or because they are expensive to the patient." 
— P 210 


profession, and have included not a few operations 
which are too commonly delivered over to men who 
are said to devote themselves to special objects ; and 
we are satisfied in entertaining the views which the 
most distinguished men have held on this subject, 
while we are persuaded that few things have contrib- 
uted more to impede the progress of science than the 
abuse of operations. 

To return to the hospitals. 

The positions which had at first been left without 
any remuneration, become, by the described machin- 
ery, very lucrative directly by the fees paid by the pu- 
pils, and indirectly, in some cases, by keeping the sur- 
geon constantly before the public. Any prestige, there- 
fore, in obtaining these appointments, is of great value ; 
but if that do not really involve professional excellence, 
it is as plain as possible that the public may be very 
badly served, and an evil generated equally opposed to 
the interests of science and humanity. It, is obvious 
that the only legitimate grounds of eligibility are mor- 
al and professional superiority, as determined by the 
test adopted at public schools and universities, namely, 
public competition. Now what are the tests employed? 
Without meaning to insinuate that moral or profes- 
sional eligibility is loholly disregarded — no system in 
these days will support that — still, the eligibility de- 
pends on the qualification which few would beforehand 
have imagined. It is certainly something better than 
Mr. Macaulay's joke in relation to the proposed fran- 
chise to the Militia, namely, that the elector should be 
five feet two, but something not much more elevated, 
namely, that a bounty should have been paid to one 
of the hospital surgeons in the shape of an apprentice 


fee, thus making the holding one of the most, responsi- 
ble offices in the profession a condition which abso- 
lutely ignores relative eligibility of skill, steadiness, 
assiduity, and humanity, and which recognizes them 
only in such shape that the possession of office is prac- 
tically made to depend on a point absolutely extrinsic 
to any one important requisition recognized by the pub- 
lic or the profession. 

We need not insist on the tendency of this system 
to the protection of idleness and incapacity, or the in- 
justice inseparable from it to the young gentlemen 
whose interests it is supposed to guard. One necessary 
consequence is obvious, namely, that the hospitals, in- 
stead of having to select from the general body of pu- 
pils, or from the more industrious or talented of them, 
is obliged to choose from a very small minority. 

It is, in fact, just as if scholarships and fellowships 
at public schools and universities were conferred with- 
out any reference to the proofs which the candidates 
might have given of their talents or industry, but 
were determined by their having given a certain fee 
to a particular professor. Would any man in his senses 
doubt as to the influence of such a plan on the inter- 
ests of classical literature or mathematical science? It 
seems to us impossible that men should really differ on 
that point, or hesitate to admit that, mutatis mutandis, 
whatever the science might be, so far as the cultiva- 
tion of it could be influenced by system, the result 
must be alike prejudicial in all cases. We are, how- 
ever, far from arriving at. the end of the system by 
this general statement. 

The public and the government, uninformed or un- 
mindful of this " system," wish to consult authorities 


on professional matters. They not unnaturally look to 
those who hold public appointments, because these af- 
ford the prestige of extensive opportunity, which is 
supposed to imply, and, under a fair system, would 
insure, skill and experience. Men are apt to look at a 
man's position without stopping to inquire hotv it was 
obtained, and, although position may in particular in- 
stances cut both ways, and in particular instances 
"throw a cruel sunshine" over incapacity, still, among 
gentlemen, extreme cases are not to be expected; the 
rule is much more likely to be a respectable and pro- 
tected mediocrity, which is just that tone which has 
rarely done any thing to enlarge the boundaries of any 
kind of knowledge. 

It happens, however, from the "system," and the 
position thus given to those who are supposed to profit 
by it, that the interests of the poor, and, in a consider- 
able degree, those of the rich also, are to a very large 
sense confided to their care. 

It thus follows that positions in themselves highly 
desirable, and which enable men to exert considerable 
influence on the progress of a science, on the sound 
condition of which the physical comforts, and, in no 
small degree, the moral condition of mankind depends, 
are occupied by men who have undergone none of those 
tests which public competition alone affords, and which 
the summi honores of almost every other profession ei- 
ther directly or indirectly imply. So far for one mode 
in which the interests of the public are concerned; but 
there are many other channels. The government, ig- 
noring the influences of this system, have placed the 
regulation of the surgical branch of the profession in 
the hands of a body of men whom, when we examine, 


we find to be no other than the apprentices we had 
recognized at the hospital, grown into the full bloom 
of a legislative body, whence again are chosen presi- 
dents, vice-presidents, examiners, &c., of the College of 
Surgeons ! 

If, fatigued with this machinery, we walk to the 
Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society — a chartered 
body for the especial cultivation of science — we meet, 
as its name would imply, a number of our honored 
brothers, the physicians; but here we find that, wheth- 
er we observe presidents or any other officers, the influ- 
ence exerted by the apprentice system continues, and 
that, in almost every thing surgical, the best possible 
individual is an apprentice who has attained his first 
position without any public competition. We hope and 
believe that the point of the wedge is already inserted 
which will, at no distant period, rend asunder this sys- 
tem, which we shall not trust ourselves by attempting 
to characterize further. But there are points in con- 
nection with the interests of science and of Abernethy 
which require yet to be noticed. 

We need scarcely observe that it would be very de- 
sirable that the interests of the science should be in- 
trusted to those who had shown most assiduity or tal- 
ent in the cultivation of them ; that, if operative sur- 
gery be really, as a whole, a series of facts exemplify- 
ing the defects of a science, while every pains should 
be taken that what is necessary should be done thor- 
oughly well, all factitious inducement to multiply their 
number should be avoided, and especially any which 
tended to increase emolument commensurately with 
their multiplication. 

That, as operations (with some few exceptions) mere- 


ly minister to effects, their real bearings on disease can 
only be estimated by knowing the ultimate result of 
the case ; and that, in order to this effect, returns of 
all operations should be kept, with full accounts of 
the case ; the addresses of the patients should also be 
taken, and such means as were obvious and practica- 
ble employed to obtain the. ultimate result of the case. 

Another point which should be attended to in hos- 
pitals is an accurate notation and return of all cases 
whatever, so that we might obtain from statistical rec- 
ords whatever light they might be capable of affording 
in aid of the prosecution of a definite science. In this 
return, a full history, and all the phenomena of the case 
which are known to have an influence on the body, 
should be accurately noted, and in tabular forms con- 
venient for reference. 

The defects of the hospitals in this respect are too 
well known to require comment, and we think the pro- 
fession indebted to Dr. Webster for the exertions he has 
made to draw attention to this subject. In no respect 
are the hospitals more defective than as regards the 
division of labor. To supply the requisitions of a yet 
dawning science, there is too much confided to one sur- 
geon, for at present the practical administration and 
the scientific investigation should be confided to the 
same hand. If more be intrusted to one man than can 
be performed without great labor, and the greater la- 
bor be voluntary, we shall have little chance of obtain- 
ing that, full and accurate notation of facts which all 
cases furnish more or less the means of obtaining, and 
without which the evolution of the maximum of human 
ability is absolutely impossible. It seems to us also 
an imperative duty to avail ourselves of the experience 



afforded by the history of other sciences in the cultiva- 
tion of our own. 

All sciences have been in as bad a condition, or 
worse, than medicine and surgery; all sciences have 
progressed immediately that they were investigated on 
a rational plan — a plan which, simply stated, is little 
more than the bringing together all the facts that can 
be perceived to bear any relation to the inquiry, and 
reasoning on them according to ivell-established and 
necessary conditions. If this be the case, and this plan 
has never been applied to the investigation of medical 
science, we know not how those who are placed in po- 
sitions which supply the necessary means can be ex- 
oused, or how we can halt between condemning the 
system under which such a flagitious neglect of the 
claims of science and mankind is exemplified. It is 
true, when we arrive at the acme of our convictions 
of the effects of such a system, our reflections remind 
us that such things are "permitted," and that ulti- 
mately they will work for good ; that man is not des- 
tined to interfere with the ultimate plan and designs 
of Providence, however he may be allowed to place his 
intellect under the direction of a responsible volition, 
and to discover the path to the temple of truth only 
after having fruitlessly threaded the mazes of error and 



" Quanto quisque sibi plura negaverit 
Ab Dis plura feret " 

We believe that there is no greater fallacy than that 
which supposes that private advantage can be pro- 
moted at the expense of the public good. We are very 
well disposed to believe that selfish people are the very 
worst caterers for the real interests of the idol they 
worship. The more we consider the Hospital System, 
the more reason shall we find to distrust it; and we 
by no means exclude that very point wherein it is sup- 
posed to be most successful, namely, in securing the 
pecuniary advantage of those whose interests it is sup- 
posed to guard. 

Of the apprentices, we shall say little more than to 
express cfur belief that many of them have lived to ob- 
tain the conviction that they would have done much 
better had they not been fed by hopes that were never 
realized. All apprentices can not, of course, be sur- 
geons. Again, if, in the course of a century, a solitary 
instance or two should occur of the success of an un- 
apprenticed candidate, they not unnaturally feel it as 
an injustice in thus being deprived of that, the special 
eligibility to which was a plea for the exaction of a 
large apprentice fee. But to the surgeons themselves, 
it seems to us that the system is far from realizing the 
benefits that its manifold evils are supposed to secure. 
The adage that "Curses, like chickens, come home tt 
roost," is far from inapplicable. After all, many of the 


hospital surgeons are little known ; and the public in- 
ference with regard to men invested with such splen- 
did opportunities of distinguishing themselves is not al- 
ways very flattering. Mr. Abernethy, so far from ben- 
efiting from the system, appears to us to have suffered 
from it in every way. 

His talents, both natural and acquired, would have 
given him every thing to hope and nothing to fear from 
the severest competition, while the positive effects of 
the system were such as to deprive him of what was 
justly his due, and to imbitter a retirement which, in 
the barest justice, should have been graced by every 
thing that could add to his peace, his honor, or his hap- 
piness, from the institution whose character he had ex- 
alted and maintained, and whose school he had founded. 

But let, us look at the facts. The system which pro- 
nounces that there shall be three surgeons to attend to 
some 500 or 600 patients (for the purposes of science, 
the next thing to an impossibility), kept Abernethy 
twenty-eight years an assistant surgeon. Dvfring this 
time he was filling the hospital with students to the 
amount of sums varying from £2000 to £3000 a year, 
of which, in the said twenty-eight years, he never re- 
ceived one farthing. 

He saw from time to time men, of whose capacities 
we know he had the highest opinion, shut out from the 
hospital by the mere circumstance of their not being 
apprentices ; and two of these were the late Professor 
Macartney, of Dublin, and the present distinguished 
Professor of Comparative Anatomy, Professor Owen. 
And here we must pause to record one of our numer- 
ous obligations to the perceptivity and justice of Aber- 
nethy. We have formerly observed that, at the very 


commencement of life, he had been accustomed to in- 
culcate the importance of studying comparative anat- 
omy and physiology, in order to obtain clear views of 
the functions of man ; but all arrangements made with 
this view, from the time of Mr. Hunter onward, though 
varying in degree, still were inefficient. It was next 
to an impossibility to combine an availing pursuit of 
a science which combines an inquiry into the struc- 
ture and functions of the whole animal kingdom with 
the daily exigencies of an anxious profession. 

When Mr. Owen had completed his education, his 
thoughts were directed to a surgeoncy in the navy, as 
combining a professional appointment with the possi- 
bility of pursuing, with increased opportunities of ob- 
servation, his favorite study. Fortunately for science, 
he went to Abernethy, who requested him to pause. 
He said, "You know the hospital will not have any 
but apprentices. Macartney left on that account. 
Stay," said he, " and allow me to think the matter 
over." This resulted in his proposing to the council 
of the College of Surgeons that there should be a per- 
manent Professor of Comparative Anatomy, and that 
the appointment should be given to Mr. Owen. 

This is among the many proofs of Abernethy's per- 
ception of character. Mr. Owen had dissected for lec- 
ture ; and Abernethy saw, or thought he saw, a pecul- 
iar aptitude for more general and enlarged anatomical 
investigation. The whole world now knows how nobly 
the Professor has justified the hopes of his talented 
master. It would be out of place for us to attempt a 
compliment to a man so distinguished in a science 
wherein the varied pursuits of a practical profession 
allow us to be mere amateurs, neither do we wish to 


forget other gentlemen who distinguish themselves in 
this branch of science; but we believe that most com- 
petent judges allow that the celebrated Cuvier has not 
left any more fitted to appreciate his excellence, or who 
has more contributed to extend that science of which 
the Baron was so distinguished a leader, than Professor 

There is one incident, however, in the Professor's 
labors, which, for our own purposes, we must relate, 
because we shall have to refer to it in our humble ex- 
hortation to the public and the profession to believe in 
the practicability of raising medicine and surgery into 
a definite science. The incident shows what may bo 
done by that, mode of investigation which is the still 
delayed desideratum in medicine and surgery, namely, 
the most comprehensive record of facts, and the study 
of their minutest relations. Professor Cuvier was the 
first to impress, in a special manner, that those beau- 
tiful relations in the structure of animals, so many of 
which are even popularly familiar, extended through- 
out the animal, so that if any one part, however ap- 
parently subordinate, were changed, so accurate were 
the adaptations of nature, that all the parts underwent 
some corresponding modification, so that diversity of 
structure in a part affected more or less the whole an- 

The beautiful result of all this is, that if these rela- 
tions be once thoroughly mastered, then any one part 
of an animal, to the philosopher so prepared, necessari- 
ly suggests to him, in general terms, the nature of the 
animal to whom it belonged. Few instances, how- 
ever, so remarkable as the one we are about to men- 
tion, could have been anticipated. 


A sea-faring man brought a piece of bone, about three 
or four inches in length, as he said, from New Zealand, 
and offered it for sale at one or two museums, and, 
among others at the College of Surgeons. We shall 
not here detain the reader by telling all that happen- 
ed. These things are often brought with intent to 
deceive, and with false allegations. Most of those to 
whom the bone was submitted dismissed it as worthless, 
or manifested their incredulity; among other guess- 
es, some insinuated that they had seen bones very 
like it at the London Tavern, regarding it, in fact, as 
part of an old marrow-bone, to which it bore, on a su- 
perficial view, some resemblance. At length it was 
brought to Professor Owen, who, having looked at it 
carefully, thought it right to investigate it more nar- 
rowly; and, after much consideration, he ventured to 
pronounce his opinion. This opinion from almost any 
body else would have been, perhaps, only laughed at; 
for, in the first place, he said that the bone (big enough, 
as we have seen, to suggest that it had belonged to an 
ox) had belonged to a bird ; but, before people had had 
time to recover from their surprise or other sensation 
created by this announcement, they were greeted by 
another assertion yet more startling, namely, that it 
had been a bird without wings. 

Now we happen to know a good deal of this story, 
and that the incredulity and doubt with which the 
opinion was received was too great for a time even for 
the authority of Professor Owen entirely to dispel. But 
mark the truthfulness of a real science ! contemplate 
the exquisite beauty and accuracy of relation in na- 
ture ! By-and-by a whole skeleton was brought over 
to this country, when the opinion of the Professor was 


converted into an established fact. Nor was this all ; 
there was this appropriate symbol to perpetuate the tri- 
umph — that which had appeared as the most startling 
featu re of what had been scarcely better received than as 
a wild conjecture, was so accurate in fact as to form the 
most appropriate name to the animal thus discovered.* 

It would be unjust to others to attribute the whole 
of Professor Owen's appointment to Abernethy; that 
the state of things did not place within his single pow- 
er; but his penetration was the first to suggest, and 
his weight most potential in securing, an appointment 
which various circumstances, besides the merits of the 
individual, bring up in high relief as the best ever 
made by the College of Surgeons in England. 

To return to the Hospital System as affecting Aber- 
nethy. He continued to lecture, and the emoluments 
arising thence he of course enjoyed. Until 1815, the 
whole of the hospital fees were taken by the surgeons 
in chief. These fees, in twenty-eight years (allowing 
a reasonable deduction for those pupils who went to 
the school, independently of the inducement offered by 
the most attractive lecturer ever known), must have 
amounted to an enormous sum. Having raised the 
school, he became surgeon at about fifty years of age, 
and then retired at sixty-two, under circumstances we 
shall presently mention. On retiring, unpleasant al- 
tercations arose, which, with others not long anteced- 
ent, we are obliged reluctantly to mention, and which 
rendered his concluding associations with the Hospital 
scarcely more agreeable than they had been at the Col- 
lege of Surgeons. 

* It was accordingly named the Apteryx, or wingless, from the 
Greek, Alpha and Pterux. 


Mr. Abernethy had appointed, as we have seen, Mr. 
Stanley his demonstrator, and some of Mr. .Stanley's 
friends allege, in no very measured language, that he 
treated that gentleman ill. This appeared to us such 
an absurdity, that we began to think there might be 
something in the matter with which we were uninform- 
ed; and, as we had no desire to conceal any thing, or 
to represent a " faultless monster which the world ne'er 
saw," we wrote to Mr. Stanley to say, that if there 
were any evidence, documentary or other, in his pos- 
session, we would include it in our narrative, either 
in extenso if not very long, or if long, in such an ab- 
breviated form as he or any friend of his should determ- 
ine to be faithful. To this we received a reply, sim- 
ply stating this gentleman's "disinclination" to make 
any communication on the subject. 

With regard to the propriety, the courtesy, or the 
motive of this " disinclination," we offer no opinion. 
The reader may form his own from the very brief nar- 
rative for which we can alone find space ; or, if he 
wishes for more light, he may obtain it from the peri- 
odicals of the time (1828). The essential facts were 
as follows : Mr. Stanley had not even been an appren- 
tice of Mr. Abernethy ; having been bound to a Mr. 
Ramsden, he had no claims on Mr. Abernethy arising 
out of the "system," nor were there any circumstances 
of a subordinate kind to afford Mr. Abernethy any spe- 
cial inducement. There was nothing very potential 
for the interests of the school to induce Mr. Abernethy 
to appoint him. His humble but respectable origin, 
a homely and not very popular manner, which, as ob- 
stacles which too frequently stand in a man's way, re- 
flect the more credit on his progress, were no particu- 


lar advantages in a school. In fact, few men have 
ever been so fortunate or so well paid for their indus- 
try as to have, without any public competition, a posi- 
tion for which the most distinguished pupils of the 
school would gladly have contended. 

In time, Mr. Abernethy gave Mr. Stanley a share in 
the Anatomical Lectures. On this occasion two new 
demonstrators were appointed ; but in the advertise- 
ments announcing the arrangements of the ensuing 
season, Mr. Stanley was still advertised as about to 
give some of the demonstrations which were really to 
be given by the new demonstrators. 

There was really very little more in this than a 
mere form, because there was a general understanding 
that if the newly-appointed demonstrators were not ap- 
proved of, the demonstrations would be given by the 
gentleman who had previously held the appointment. 

The times were somewhat agitated, and the pupils 
complained ; and some very disagreeable meetings took 
place in consequence. 

Mr. Abernethy alleged that Mr. Stanley put in the 
advertisements, which was admitted ; but it was al- 
leged by Mr. Stanley that he did so by order of Mr. 
Abernethy, and that he was not " free to act." 

The case seems to us to be simply this : If Mr. Aber- 
nethy did, either by himself or through Mr. Stanley, put 
the advertisements in without the understanding that 
Mr. Stanley was to continue the demonstrations, if cir- 
cumstances required it, he certainly did wrong ; but 
it should be remembered that none of this was proved. 
But we do not see that this betters Mr. Stanley's posi- 
tion. The only pecuniary gainer was to be Mr. Stan- 
ley ; and it appears that either he himself put in the 


advertisements, advertising himself as about to give 
demonstrations, which, subject to certain conditions, 
were to be given to others, or allowed Mr. Abernethy 
to order him to do that of which he (Mr. Stanley) dis- 
approved, and in which he was practically the princi- 
pal party concerned. For our parts, we are at a loss 
to determine the superiority of these two positions. 

Another charge against Mr. Abernethy was, that in 
a school which he had raised by his own transcendent 
talents, and was about to deliver with a numerous class 
to two gentlemen who had never helped to form it — 
whose assistance in the school had been paid by sal- 
ary, and who thereby occupied positions for which, 
had they been admitted, there would have been very 
many competitors — that in a school so constituted Mr. 
Abernethy should have desired to secure a place for his 
son, when he should become qualified for the same ; 
moreover, that he should have wished Mr. Stanley to 
enter into a bond for that purpose. 

Now we confess to an entire disapproval of all bonds 
for such purposes, and we think that Mr. Stanley's de- 
clining to enter into it was very natural. It might be 
very proper for Mr. Abernethy, with a large family of 
daughters and only one son, to require such a security, 
but we think it equally so in Mr. Stanley, with a large 
family, to decline it. But when we are called upon to 
admit that it was wrong, we must confess that we can 
not see it. There was no parallel to the single-arm 
force by which Mr. Abernethy had raised the rich in- 
heritance he was leaving ; and to talk of that as ill 
treating Mr. Stanley, which was a parent's justice to 
his only son, which was nothing more than an attempt 
to secure to him, when qualified, what certainly, if 


qualified, he would have had the strongest possible 
claim to, appears to us neither more nor less than ar- 
rant nonsense. We shall not attempt to insult the 
common sense of our readers by attempting a defense 
where there is no crime. 

The stormy virtue of some people is very amusing. 
When other people's interests are alone concerned, it 
is like what hurricanes are now said to be — enormous 
whirlwinds, into whose vortices every body's faults are 
drawn with indiscriminate voracity ; but when their 
own are concerned, there is an easy calmness which 
looks with complacent eye on the necessary expedien- 
cies of life, and declares all beyond to be moonshine 
or Utopianism. 

A curious incident occurred in illustration of this 
about that time. Sir Astley Cooper had, without the 
smallest intention to give offense, made some observa- 
tion on the somewhat too free use of some medicine 
(mercury) at that time in the Borough Hospitals. His 
observations having been misunderstood or misrepre- 
sented, he took occasion to remove any idea of intention- 
al offense by addressing the class. Among other things, 
he is reported to have said, " Why, gentlemen, was it 
likely that I should say any thing unkind toward these 
gentlemen ? Is not Mr. Green my godson (surgeon 
of St. Thomas's), Mr. Tyrrel my nephew, Mr. Travers 
my apprentice (surgeons of St. Thomas's), Mr. Key my 
nephew, Mr. Cooper my nephew?" (surgeons of Guy's). 

This was very naive, and a good illustration of the 
value of evidence in relation to one thing which is 
stated in relation to another. 

But we have no desire to say more on this subject 
than to express our conviction that no man ever did 


more for another, in the worldly sense of the word, 
than (respective relations considered) Mr. Abernethy 
did for Mr. Stanley. It is not in thn power of any one 
man to do more by position than to furnish the elements 
for the fortune of another. The combining of them 
depends on the individual; and whether that exist or 
not in the present case is not. important, as wo are hap- 
py to hear that fortune has in another way rendered it 
unnecessary; we have only to regret that any circum- 
stances should have led to the expression of a '•disin- 
clination," where a contrary sentiment might have 
been so gracefully indulged in, and with no greater ad- 
vantage to any body than to Mr. Stanley. 

The whole of Mr. Abernethy's closing career at the 
Hospital gave him no great reason to rejoice at the 
Hospital System. Men who could see nothing in leav- 
ing very much more important situations to an indef- 
inite succession of apprentices, caviled at a prospective 
lectureship for his only son ; while his lectures were 
delivered over to two gentlemen, one of whom had from 
an early period ridiculed, as he said, the opinions which 
he taught as, and which we now know to have been, 
John Hunter's, and another, with whom there had been 
several not very pleasing associations. 

This was necessarily a result of the " Hospital Sys- 
tem ;" a system that gave a still more melancholy and 
fatal close to the labors of John Hunter, whose death 
took place suddenly in the board-room of St. George's 
Hospital, while resisting an interference with a privi- 
lege which his love of science rendered valuable to him, 
and which it was for the interests of science that he 
should enjoy ; but, mournful as these results are, and 
many others that might be added, still, if we found 


that the system worked well for science, we might, rest 
satisfied ; but is it so ? What advances have hospital 
surgeons of London, under the apprentice system, made 
in the science of surgery? Let those answer the ques- 
tion who are desirous of maintaining this system. For 
our own parts, the retrospect seems to show the sys- 
tem in a more complete manner than any thing we 
have yet stated. John Hunter, that primus inter om- 
nes, was no hospital apprentice ; he migrated from St. 
Bartholomew's, where the rule was too exclusive to 
give him a chance, to St. George's, where he obtained 
admittance ; St. Bartholomew's preserved the system 
and lost Hunter. 

Abernethy was an apprentice truly ; but all those 
glorious labors which shed such a lustre on his profes- 
sion and such a benefit on mankind, were completed 
long before he became surgeon to St. Bartholomew's 
Hospital ; and it is material to repeat, that at that time 
the assistant surgeons, with the exceptions already 
stated, had nothing to do. In casting our eyes over 
the retrospect of years, one honored name attracts our 
notice in connection with a real advance in the knowl- 
edge of the functions of nerves. We allude to Sir 
Charles Bell; but here again the system is unfortu- 
nate, for Sir Charles was never a hospital apprentice at, 
all, and only succeeded to a post in a London hospital 
after an open canvass in an institution in which the 
narrow portal of the apprentice system is unrecognized. 
Still we see signs of a " Delenda est Carthago ;" as 
we have said, the point of the wedge is inserted, and a 
very little extension of public information will at no 
distant period drive it home. 

In the mean time, Science, instead of being in a po- 


sition to receive every quackery as a means of demon- 
strating the superior beauty of truth, by placing it in 
contrast with error, is obliged to regard any absurdity, 
however gross, as one of the hydra-headed fallacies 
through which we are to evolve what is true only by 
the circuitous path of exhausting the resources of hy- 
pothesis and conjecture, while sweeping epidemics, 
which, wholesomely regarded, should be looked on rev- 
erently as besoms of destruction, are hailed by (he ob- 
servant as melancholy but necessary impulses to drive 
us to the adoption of measures to which our capital of 
common sense is not sufficient to induce us to listen. 
Neither are the old hospitals the only parts of a de- 
fective system. In others we observe the signs of the 
prurient appetencies of trade usurping the lofty aspira- 
tions of science. There is no hospital in London that 
yet has even a country establishment of its own for 
convalescents, while of two of the more recently estab- 
lished ones, one is built over a church-yard, and the 
other, intended only for the relief of decarbonizing or- 
gans, is built in the immediate neighborhood of the 
most smoky metropolis in Europe. Both, instead of 
being the most distinguished illustrations of the prog- 
ress of sanitary and physiological science, are, on the 
contrary, emphatic examples of their violation. 



" There is no doubt but men of genius and leisure may carry our 
method to greater perfection, but, having had long experience, we 
have found none equal to it for the commodiousness it affords in work- 
ing with the Understanding." — Lord Bacon, vol iii., p 316, 4th ed. 

In tracing the progress of science, it is very difficult 
to assign to each individual his just share of merit. 
The evidence, always more or less incomplete, seldom 
allows us to do more than to mark the more fortunate, 
to whom, as it were, the principal parts have been al- 
lotted. The exposition of truth generally implies a 
previous contest with error ; this may, in one sense, be 
compared with military achievements. We hear of 
the skill and wisdom of the general and his associate 
chiefs, but little is known of individual prowess on the 
multiplication of which the result so commonly de- 

To one who conferred so many obligations on his 
country and on mankind as Abernethy, it is difficult 
to assign only his just share, and yet it is most desir- 
able that nothing be ascribed to him which is doubt- 
ful or disputable. 

Antecedently to Mr. Abernethy's time, and contem- 
poraneous with the date of Mr. Hunter's labors, sur- 
gery had, in the best hands, and as a mere practical 
art, arrived at a very respectable position ; still, in Aber- 
nethy's early day, barber-surgeons were not yet extinct, 
and, as he used jocosely to phrase it, he himself had 
"doffed his cap" to barber-surgeons. There is no doubt 
that some of them had arrived at a very useful knowl- 


edge. The celebrated Ambrose Pare was a French bar- 
ber-surgeon. When Abernethy entered into life, the best 
representative of the regular surgery oft/tat day was Mr. 
Pott, who was contemporary with the period of Mr. Hun- 
ter's labors. Mr. Pott was a good surgeon, an eloquent 
lecturer, a scholar, and a gentleman, and he gave some 
surgical lectures at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. We 
have perused two manuscript copies of these lectures, 
which are in the library of the Royal Medical and Chi- 
rurgical Society, and they contain many useful and ju- 
dicious observations. There are ripples of a more hu- 
mane and scientific surgery, and many parts that are 
suggestive of onward study. Pott had also the good 
sense to perceive the measured pretensions of his own 
time, and to predict advances on it as great as that it- 
self was on the surgery of his predecessors; but we do 
not perceive any thing in Pott's lectures in the shape 
of a science. Extensive generalizations we are not 
thinking of — we have them yet to get; but we see 
nothing, in the true sense of the word, even axiomatic; 
there are no steps, no axioms, by which we can reach 
the platform of more general propositions. In some of 
his operations, the most elementary principles are either 
not perceived or neglected ; and although there are gen- 
eral recognitions of the state of the health influencing 
the so-called surgical maladies, there is no definite prin- 
ciple developed. It is a recognition scarcely more than 
that implied in the older surgical writers, when, if the 
surgical part of a case did not go on well, they recom- 
mended the calling in of a physician. 

In this state of things, John Hunter began a beau- 
tifully simple, and, in its bearings on surgery, we may 
add, a new mode of inquiry. He saw that there was 



much in all animals that was common, and that there 
were analogies in the whole organic kingdom of na- 
ture ; hence he sought to develop, by observation of the 
various processes in various animals, and their nearest 
analogies in vegetables also, the real nature of various 
phenomena in man. It was not that he did that which 
had never been attempted before in the abstract, but 
that he undertook it with a new, a concentrated unity 
of purpose. He did not employ, as it were, a different 
instrument to collect the rays of light from surround- 
ing nature, but he concentrated them into a focus on 
a different object — the nature and treatment of dis- 
ease. His labors, though not permitted to endure for 
many years, interrupted by indisposition, and suddenly 
stopped by death, were abundantly fruitful, and ena- 
bled him to simplify much of surgery that was offi- 
cious and hurtful, and to correct many errors. He 
first gave a reason for this or that proceeding, founded 
on actual observation of natural processes : thus, in heal- 
ing of wounds, the natural and healthy were distin- 
guished from unnatural and unhealthy processes, and 
so forth. But as Mr. Hunter's enlarged views taught 
him the value of the relations observable throughout 
the whole animal creation, he contemplated parts of 
the body only as a step to the more successful observ- 
ation of the whole. As before stated, he observed the 
phenomena exhibited by the various organs, both sep- 
arately and in connection ; traced them with elaborate 
circumspection, and concluded by justifying what Aber- 
nethy said when he observed, " Hunter proved that the 
whole body sympathized with all its parts." 

Now many of the facts which Mr. Hunter remarked 
in the relations established between different parts of 


the body were, in the strictest sense, axiomatic — that 
is, they were exemplifications of laws to which they 
were the necessary steps. Take one, for example — 
that the part sympathetically affected by an impression 
previously made on another part appeared to be fre- 
quently more affected than the part with which it had 
appeared to sympathize. This we now know to be no 
exception, but rather the law, because the exceptions, 
as we contend, are explicable;* but that was not then 
perceived. Abernethy, however, made use of this so 
far as to impress the fact that organs might be seri- 
ously disordered without any symptoms apparently ref- 
erable to them. 

Now Abernethy might have continued to labor as 
Hunter did in collecting facts as the materials for ax- 
ioms, or as elements for future and more extensive 
generalization ; or he might have at once taken Mr. 
Hunter's views, so far as he had gone, and, working on 
them with his remarkable aptitude for perceiving the 
more salient and practical relations of facts, have ap- 
plied them at once to practical purposes, gleaning more 
facts as his extremely acute observation might enable 
him to do on the way. He pursued, perhaps, neither 
course exclusively, but the latter appeared to be the 
one he chiefly adopted ; and from the more immediate 
fruition it affords, no doubt it was best adapted to the 
exigencies of a practical profession. 

John Hunter was a man of indefatigable industry, 
and exceedingly circumspect in his observance of facts. 
Abernethy was fagging too, but more impulsive and 
not so dogged ; mere facts were mere bores to him ; he 
panted for practical relations, and was most wonder- 

* See " Medicine and Surgery one Inductive Science." 183S. 


fully quick in perceiving them. His vision was as 
penetrative as Hunter's had been circumspect and cau- 
tious. Hunter would have sifted all the useful things 
out of any heap, however heterogeneous ; Abernethy 
would have looked through it, at once found the one 
jewel that it concealed, and left the rest for the next 
comer. They were both most perfectly honest and 
truthful, both careless of money, both enthusiasts in 
science — that is, both ardent in the pursuit of truth, 
with that kind of feeling which does not stop to exam- 
ine the utilitarian relations of these pursuits, but which, 
carried on by a continually increasing impulse, takes 
the good for granted, and is impelled by the love of 
truth for its own sake. 

But, interesting as it is to observe those requisitions 
which, as indispensable, are common to the successful 
investigators of science, it is yet more so to see the 
distinctive character of John Hunter and John Aber- 
nethy. The former, with many ideas to tell, and most 
of them new, had a difficulty in expressing himself. 
With more need than any man before him for addi- 
tional facilities in this way, he had a restricted vocab- 
ulary : again, in making use of it, his style was seldom 
easy, often obscure ; so that things which, when thor- 
oughly understood, had no feature more striking than 
their simplicity, were often made to appear difficult, 
and by many readers, no doubt, had often been left 

Abernethy, on the contrary, had a happy facility of 
expressing himself, and a power rarely equaled of sin- 
gling out the difficult parts of a subject, and simplify- 
ing them down to the level of ordinary capacities. 
Hunter, though not without imagination, or humor 


even, had these qualities held in abeyance by the un- 
ceasing concentration of his intellectual faculty. As 
Abernethy used to say, " John Hunter was always 
thinking." Abernethy, on the contrary, had an active 
imagination; it always accompanied his intellect like 
a young, joyous attendant, constantly lighting up the 
more sombre propositions of her grave companion with 
variety of illustration. The most difficult proposition, 
directly Abernethy began to fashion it, had all its 
rough points taken off, and its essential features brought 
out clear and orderly to the plainest intellect. John 
Hunter's manner of laying down facts the most import- 
ant to the formation of a medical science (take place 
when it may), was not able to keep people awake. 
Abernethy's treatment of the most dry and unimport- 
ant kept the class unceasingly interested. The ob- 
scurity of language in Hunter was happily replaced, 
not only by an unusual ease, but by a curiosa felicitas 
in Abernethy. In sustained composition, Hunter, gen- 
erally difficult, often obscure ; Abernethy, if not fault- 
less, always easy and unaffected. If his style failed 
sometimes in earnestness and vigor, it was always sin- 
cere; and though not deficient in elegance, yet, if it 
asserted no special claim to that excellence, it was al- 
ways pleasing and perspicuous. 

Nothing could be further from the earnest and think- 
ing John Hunter than any thing dramatic; Abernethy 
had that happy variety of countenance and manner 
that can be conveyed by no other term. Hunter, with- 
out being slow, was cautious, circumspect; Abernethy, 
without being hasty, was rapid, penetrative, and im- 
pulsive. Never were two minds so admirably fitted for 
the heavy-armed pioneering in science, and the com- 


paratively light-trooped intellect, which was calculated 
to render the first clearing easily convertible to those 
practical necessities with which the science had to deal. 
Accordingly, we find that, Abernethy very soon extend- 
ed Mr. Hunter's views, and applied them so powerfully 
as at least to create the dawnings of a science. He 
showed that all processes in the economy, and of course, 
therefore, those of disease, are essentially nervous in 
their origin — that is to say, the nerves being the in- 
struments through which our relations are established 
with surrounding nature (however much we may, in 
common language, speak of this or that feeling, this or 
that organ, or this or that part of the body), all im- 
pressions must still be made on the sensitive or nervous 
system of that part, and this, of course, whether they 
imply consciousness, or be altogether independent of it; 
that disturbed nervous. action was, as the case might 
be, either the forerunner or the proximate cause of the 
disease; and that, therefore, the relief of diseased or 
disordered actions, however attempted, consisted ulti- 
mately and essentially in the restoration of healthy 
nervous power, or adaptation. 

This, then, is the first proposition. The next thing, 
obviously, in the prevention or cure of disease, therefore, 
is the tranquilizing nervous disorders. 

Nowhere there are many things to be regarded; for 
man is a moral as well as a physical being, and the 
circumstances by which he is surrounded, even the air 
he breathes, the moral and physical impressions to 
which he is subjected, are very often not under his own 
control, much less of his medical attendant. On the 
other hand, the food is in civilized communities very 
much under the influence of his volition ; and there 


are many circumstances which, instead of impeding 
those adaptations which disorder requires, render them 
particularly easy, it frequently happening that those 
things which are really best are the most easily pro- 
cured. This is important, because the next proposition 
is, that the nervous system is very easily and constant- 
ly disturbed by disorder of one or other, or the whole 
of the digestive organs, and that therefore the tran- 
quilizing of disturbance in them is of the highest con- 
sequence in the treatment of disease; few propositions 
in any science are more susceptible of proof than the 
foregoing. But if this be so, we must now recollect 
the full force of what we have observed with regard to 
relation — that is, we must not restrict our notion of it 
to the general loose assent that there is a relation in 
all parts of the body, and rest on the simple admission, 
for example, that animals are formed in adaptation to 
their habits ; but we must sustain the Cuvier-like im- 
pression of the fact, the Owen-like application of it to 
the phenomena ; recollect that preconceived ideas of 
magnitude or minuteness can do nothing but obscure 
and mislead ; and that the relations established in the 
body are constant and universal, however they may at 
first — as in the case we have quoted — excite the sur- 
prise or the derision of the less informed and less re- 
flecting. We must take their immensely potential 
power as existing as certainly in the most trifling 
headache as in the most malignant fever, in the small- 
est scratch as in the most complicated compound frac- 
ture. We have plenty of facts now to prove this; but 
the first plain clear enunciation of it all, the successful 
demonstration of it at the bedside, and the consequent 
diminution of an enormous amount of human sutler- 


in», is the great debt we owe to Abernethy. Mankind 
in general admitted that diet was of consequence. No- 
body doubted its force as an accessory in treatment. 
Lactantius said, "Sis prudens ad victum sine quo ce- 
tera remedia frustra adhibentur ;" but no one had rec- 
ognized the treatment of the Digestive Organs as the 
essential part of the treatment of surgical diseases, nor 
founded it on the same comprehensive view of its re- 
lations as addressed to organs which executed the nu- 
tritive functions of the body on the one hand, and were 
the most potential disturbers or tranquilizers of the 
nervous system on the other, and thus forever linked 
them in their practical relations with the fact that the 
essential character of disease, the fons et origo, is dis- 
turbed nervous power. But as all disease is merely 
the result of two conditions, namely, the injurious in- 
fluence acting, and the body acted on, it matters not 
whether the injurious influence be sudden, violent, slow, 
moderate, chemical, mechanical, or what not; so the 
foregoing positions affect the whole practice of medi- 
cine, and must not be held as affecting any one part 
of it, but as influencing equally both medicine and 

We do trust that these few propositions will induce 
some to think ; for, as Abernethy used to say, lectures 
will never make surgeons ; and we feel equally confi- 
dent that no books, no individual efforts, however cost- 
ly or sincere, will really henefit or inform any portion 
of the public or the profession, except such of them as 
may be induced to think for themselves. They have 
only to recollect that, in carrying out such principles, 
they must not measure their influence by their previ- 
ously conceived notions ; they must encourage labor 


when they see the profession willing, and not thwart 
them by showing that it will be labor in vain. There 
will soon be science if it is encouraged, 

" Sint Maecenates, non deerunt Flacci." 

If they are disposed to think investigation too minute 
to be practical, or precision too unpleasant to be nec- 
essary, let them remember the story of Professor Owen's 
beautiful application of minute relation, and that the 
distinction between a huge common quadruped and an 
unknown wingless bird could alone be discovered by 
particulars far more minute than they will be called on 
once in a hundred times to observe or to follow. The 
obligation we have already noticed has in some sense 
revolutionized the practice of medicine and surgery, 
and is, no doubt, the capital debt we owe to Abernethy, 
but there are many others. His application and ad- 
justment of the operation of the trephine was a beau- 
tiful and discriminating achievement, and would alone 
have been sufficient to have raised an ordinary repu- 

His first extension of John Hunter's operation for 
aneurism shows how ready he was — when he could do 
so with advantage — to enlarge the application of that 
branch of our duties which he least valued, namely, 
operative surgery. 

His proposal to add to the treatment of the diseases 
of joints the apparatus of splints for insuring absolute 
quiescence of the affected surfaces, has saved a most 
incalculable number of limbs from amputation. It 
here becomes necessary to repeat a remark we have 
made in a former work. Sir B. Brodie recommends 
this plan only in the third edition, I think, of his book 
on the joints, not appearing to have been aware that 


Abernethy taught it for nearly thirty years previously, 
about ten years of which we ourselves had repeatedly 
tested its great value, and taught it, but contempora- 
neously from Abernethy, in our own lectures. Indeed, 
so important an element is it in the treatment of dis- 
eases of the joints, that we have never seen it fail, 
when fairly applied and accompanied by a reasonable 
attention to the general health, except in the following 
cases : first, when the patient has been nearly worn 
out by disease before subjected to treatment; and, sec- 
ondly, where the complaint has been proved to be ac- 
companied by internal organic disease. 

We have always thought that one of the greatest 
boons to mankind was Abernethy's lesson on fracture 
of the neck of the thigh bone within the capsule of the 
joint. For thirty years Sir Astley Cooper taught, and 
boasted that he had taught, that this fracture could 
not unite by bone ; Sir Astley — reasoning on the anat- 
omy of the part only, and conceiving that the neck, in 
its somewhat isolated position, would be imperfectly 
nourished, and seeing that, in point of fact, this frac- 
ture did generally unite by ligament only — unfortu- 
nately adopted the foregoing idea as the cause of the 
fact, and concluded that bony union was impractica- 
ble. Experiments on animals — at all times extremely 
fallacious, and in this case singularly imperfect in the 
analogy they afforded — appeared to confirm his views. 
Despairing of effecting a proper union, he adopted a 
treatment which rendered it impossible. Abernethy's 
beautiful reasoning on the subject led him to an op- 
posite conclusion. It embraced certain views of Hun- 
ter's, and some common phenomena in other accidents 
where the union by ligament is coincident with motion 


of the part. He therefore treated all cases with a view 
to secure bony union, and he and many of his pupils 
had no doubt but that they had seen examples of it. 
Still, people got well and were lost sight of, and there- 
fore it was said that the fracture was not wholly with- 
in the capsule of the joint. At length a specimen was 
procured from the examination of a dead body, and the 
question set at rest, we believe, in the minds of every 
body, that this fracture, though it require especial care 
to keep parts steady and in apposition, will unite just 
like other fractures in the way taught (and since 
proved) by Abernethy. Let those who can calculate 
the number of surgeons who have been educated by 
these two gentlemen, and who, for the first few years, 
almost certainly have followed the practice of their in- 
structors, compute the number of those of the lame 
who, under Providence, have walked in consequence 
of the clear-sighted reasoning of Abernethy. 

How the French surgeons may have been influenced 
by Abernethy in this point, I do not know. When I 
was first in Paris in 1824, they were divided ; but I 
recollect Baron Larrey showing me a case which he 
regarded as a clear example of this fracture in course 
of firm consolidation, and he was well aware of the 
opinion of Abernethy. 

The bearing which Abernethy's acuteness of observ- 
ation of the influence of the state of the digestive or- 
gans on so-called specific poisons in producing or main- 
taining diseases resembling them, opposed as it was to 
the most powerful conventionalism, is a proof of his 
clear judgment, and, if we mistake not, will one day 
prove to have been the first ripple of a most important 
law in the animal economy, which will shed a light as 


new on specific affections as his other principles have 
on diseases in general. 

His treatment of that severe malady, " lumbar ab- 
scess," is, in our view, a most splendid addition to hu- 
mane and successful surgery, and as regards one of its 
distinctive characters, he has, as we have shown, re- 
ceived the encomiums of the most distinguished of his 
contemporaries, including Sir Astley Cooper. 

The manner in which he applied that law which 
prevails in voluntary muscles to the replacement of 
dislocations, namely, that muscles under the influence 
of the will can not ordinarily act long and unremit- 
tingly, was an amendment as humane as scientific ; 
and while it has removed from surgery a farrier-like 
roughness in the treatment of dislocations as repulsive 
as unnecessary, it has adjusted the application of more 
sustained force, when it becomes necessary, on princi- 
ples at once humane, safe, and effectual. In short, 
whatever part of surgery we consider, we should have 
something to say of Abernethy — either something new 
in itself, or improved in application. "We find him 
equally patient and discriminative wherever there is 
danger ; thus there is the same force and originality 
on the occasional consequences on the simple operation 
of bleeding in the arm, and the more serious proceed- 
ing of perforating the cranium. He is every where 
acute, penetrating, discriminative, humane, and prac- 
tical, so that it is difficult which most to admire, his 
enlarged views in relation to important general princi- 
ples, or the pervading science and humanity with 
which he invests their minutest details. 

Hunter's method of investigation was highly induct- 
ive, and, whenever he adhered to it, the structure he 


has left is stable, and fit for further superadditions. 
Whenever he proceeded on any preconceived notions, 
or on an induction manifestly imperfect, his conclu- 
sions have, as we think, been proved unsound. His def- 
inition of disease, as distinct from accidental injury, is 
one instance which we formerly noticed in our own 
works, and some of his conclusions in regard to pois- 
ons — as mercury, for example — will not hold ; but 
all that Abernethy made use of, either in developing 
his own views, or maturing their practical applications, 
were sound, and most careful deductions from obvious 
and incontrovertible facts. Abernethy took equal care 
to deduce nothing from them, or from any thing of his 
own observations, but the most strictly logical infer- 
ences — conclusions which were, in truth, little more 
than the expression of the facts, and therefore irrefra- 
gable. He showed that, however dissimilar, nervous 
disturbance was the essential element of disease, and 
that the removal of that disturbance, was the essential 
element of cure ; that no mode should be neglected, 
therefore, which was capable of exerting an influence 
on the nervous system ; but that, whether he looked 
at the subject as mere matter of fact, or as assisted by 
the phenomena of health or disease generally, or merely 
to that which was most within our power, no more po- 
tential disturbers of the nervous system were to bo 
found than in disturbances addressed to the digestive 
organs, and that the tranquilizing of these must al- 
ways be a leading object in our endeavors to achieve 
the still greater one of tranquilizing nervous disorder. 
The absurd idea that he looked chiefly to the stom- 
ach, that he thought of nothing but blue pills or alter- 
ative doses of mercury, need scarcely detain us. His 


works show, and his lectures still more, that there was 
no organ in the body which had not been the object of 
his special attention — in almost all cases in advance of 
his time, and not exceeded in practical value by any 
thing now done. We know of nothing more valuable 
or clear now than his paper on the skin — nothing so 
advanced or important as his observations on the lungs 
and skin, and the relations of these important organs; 
and it is unnecessary to repeat what has been already 
said about the digestive organs. His medical treat- 
ment was always very simple, and if its more salient 
object was to correct disorders of the liver, it was be- 
cause he knew that the important relations of that organ 
not only rendered it very frequently the cause of many 
disorders, but that there could be nothing materially 
wrong in the animal economy, by which it must not 
be more or less affected. He carried the same clear- 
ness and definiteness of purpose into his prescriptions 
as that which characterized all his investigations, and, 
indisposed to employ any means except on some prin- 
ciple, used but few remedies, although he by no means 
wished to deter others from having recourse to a more 
extended pharmacopceia. We regret, indeed, the im- 
possibility of doing full justice to Abernethy in any 
thing less than a running commentary on the publica- 
tion of his works ; but we have said enough, we trust, 
to show how largely the profession and mankind are 
indebted to him. 

Now, in these days of testimonials, what memorials 
have we of Abernethy? It is true there is no monu- 
ment in Westminster Abbey, and only a bust at St. 
Bartholomew's. His portrait, to be sure, given by his 
pupils, hangs at St. Bartholomew's, exalted where it 


can hardly be distinctly seen, to be replaced by those of 
Mr. Vincent, and Mr. Lawrence in his Professor's gown! 
But he has still a 

" Monumentum aere perennius" 

in the claim he has established to the rarely so truly 
earned honor of "nihil quod non tetigit, et nihil quod 
tetigit, quod non ornavit;'' in the grateful hearts of 
many a pupil who had no other obligation to him than 
his beautiful lessons; and in an improved medical Sur- 
gery, which, though it may have in London rather ret- 
rograded than otherwise since his time, is felt more or 
less in its moral as well as its medical bearings, and 
in a diminution of suffering and an improved practice 
throughout the civilized world. 

But, if Abernethy's views are so true or so excellent, 
as we allege they are, they must have some relation to 
any thing that is good in every kind of medical or sur- 
gical treatment, and this equally whatever the system 
(so called), whence it may arise, however much of truth 
or error it may contain, or however perplexingly their 
qualities may be blended together. These are points 
on which we have yet something to say, and as we are 
anxious that the public and the profession should favor 
us with their attention to the very few remarks we have 
the space to offer, we must have a new chapter. 



" Que res neque consilium neque modum habet ullum 
Earn consilio regere non potes." — Ter. 


A writer* of no ordinary judgment and discrimina- 
tion has observed, that " it often happens in human 
affairs that the evil and the remedy grow up at the 
same time ; the remedy, unnoticed and at a distance, 
scarcely visible, perhaps, above the earth; while the 
evil may shoot rapidly into strength, and alone catch 
the eye of the observer by the immensity of its shadow ; 
and yet," he adds, " a future age may be able to mark 
how the one declined and the other advanced, and how 
returning spring seemed no longer to renew the honors 
of the one, while it summoned into maturity and prog- 
ress the perfection of the other." 

We know not how it may appear to the reader, but 
we can not help thinking that there is a far-seeing per- 
ception of a very leading character of human affairs in 
the foregoing sentence. There is no evil but which is 
charged with a certain degree of good. At first it is, in- 
deed, " scarcely visible" — nay, it escapes alike the most 
penetrative perception and faithful confidence in the 
surpassing working-to-good of all things around us ; 
but, so soon as the evil begins to tell, so soon as the 
full flood of mischief becomes obtrusive or remarkable, 
the small ripple of some corrective principle becomes 

* Professor Smythe, Lectures on Modern History, vol. i., p. 74. 


It would be easy to illustrate the foregoing proposi- 
tion from general history, from the progress of nations, 
or even from the contracted area of private families. 
But we will confine ourselves to an illustration more 
directly in relation to our immediate object, namely, 
the present condition and prospects of medical science. 
There are, no doubt, many persons who view the 
present state of medical science as little better than 
the triumphant domination of something little superior 
to a conjectural art, and which has long obscured and 
is still very imperfectly representing a beautiful science, 
and that the perception of the true relations which it 
bears to such science has been vailed by the impression 
that it involved some mystery from which the general 
public, who were most interested in its development, 
were necessarily excluded. 

There have been at all times individuals perhaps 
sufficiently astute to observe the real truth of the mat- 
ter ; but still they were rare exceptions, and did not 
prevent Mystery from conferring on a very considerable 
section of people the social advantage of a gainful pro- 
fession ; that property being enhanced, of course, in 
that it ministered to an ignorant public. But even in 
an early stage correctives to an equivocally-earned ad- 
vantage began to appear, for a thing which had no 
character but its indefiniteness, and its apparent facil- 
ity of acquisition, obtained many followers ; the supply, 
such as it was, was thus so close in relation to the de- 
mand, that what in theory seemed necessarily very 
gainful, on the whole proved any thing but a lucrative 
profession. As contrasted with any other, or a variety 
of commercial pursuits, medical men were neither so 
affluent, nor always so secure of their position. Re- 


tiring competency in well-conducted callings has, in a 
rich country, been rather the rule. We fear, in the 
medical profession, it is the exception, which we are 
apprehensive (in its bereaved dependents) contributes 
more applicants for eleemosynary relief than any other 

This surely is not a state of things which can be well 
made worse. Public ignorance, the real mischief, has, 
in the mean time, been left uninformed, and every at- 
tempt to enlighten it has too often been branded with 
some form or other of corrupt motive. Public positions 
have been conferred without competition, the surest 
source of fitness or excellence ; and the public have 
been further doubly barred out, so that the chance of 
eliciting men of spirit and enthusiasm has been dimin- 
ished by the first positions having been often rendered 
contingenton the payment of money in the right quarter. 

But all this time corrections were slowly springing 
up. Hundreds were beginning, under the light of a 
more liberal diffusion of general knowledge, to feel that 
the so-called science of medicine and surgery was very 
different from science usually so termed; and while 
other sciences were affording that which was definite 
and positive, the juxtaposition only seemed to bring out 
in higher relief the prevailing character of conjecture 
and uncertainty in medicine. 

People began to see that mystery is but mystery, to 
whatever it is applied, and that one man can see in the 
dark about as well as another; that where all is ob- 
scure, any one may scramble with a chance of success. 
Accordingly, we observe that a state of things has grad- 
ually been rising up, which, if it do not justify the ex- 
pression of quot medici tot empirici, at lease leads us 


to deplore that, of all callings in life, no one ever had 
such a legion of parasites as are represented hy the 
hydra-headed quackeries which infest the medical pro- 
fession. Naturally enough too, Quackery attacked 
chiefly those disorders in regard to which Mystery 
avowed its incapacity, or declared to be incurable ; and 
Ihus, while the regular profession made their own lim- 
ited knowledge the measure of the powers of nature, 
the quacks unconsciously proceeded, de facto, more 
philosophically, when they neither avowed nor acknowl- 
edged any other limits than those of observation and 

Among, no doubt, innumerable failures, and, as we 
know, a multiplicity of fictions, they would now and 
then, in acting violently on the various organs, blunder 
on the last link in the chain — the immediate cause of 
the disorder, and perhaps effect the removal of a so- 
called incurable malady. Thus, while the regular pro- 
fession were making their own knowledge the measure 
of remedial possibility, and were reposing contentedly 
on the rule, they were every now and then undermined, 
or tripped up, hy unexplained exceptions. 

It is difficult to conceive any state of things, when 
once observed, more calculated to drive men to the ob- 
vious remedy that a definite science would alone afford ; 
nor should it be forgotten that multiform quackeries, 
with mesmerism to boot, are coincident with a system 
which allows not one single appointment which the 
public are accustomed to regard as authority to be open 
to scientific competition. Of late, too, many persons 
have begun to examine for themselves questions which 
they had been wont to leave entirely to their medical 


The sanitary movement has shown that more peo- 
ple die every year from avoidable causes than would 
satisfy the yawning gulf of a severe epidemic or the 
most destructive battle. In a crowded community, 
many events are daily impressing on the heads of fam- 
ilies, besides the expedience of avoiding unnecessary 
expenses, that long illnesses are long evils ; that their 
dearest connections are sometimes prematurely broken ; 
and that parts are not unfrequently found diseased 
which were not suspected to be so during life. The 
thought will sometimes occur whether this may have 
been always consequent on the difficulty of the sub- 
ject, or whether it may not sometimes have been the 
result of too hasty or too restricted an inquiry ; that not 
only (as the Spanish tutor told his royal pupil of kings) 
do patients die "sometimes," but very frequently. 

These and other circumstances have induced many 
of the public to inquire into the reason of their faith in 
us, and to ask how it happens that, while all other sci- 
ences are popularized and progressing, there should be 
any thing so recondite in the laws governing our own 
bodies as to be accessible only to comparatively few, 
especially as they have begun to perceive that their in- 
terest in knowing such laws is of the greatest possible 

Among various attempts to better this condition of 
things, the imagination of men has been very active. 
Too proud to obey the guidance, or too impatient to 
await the fruition of those cautious rules which the in- 
tellect has imposed on the one hand, and so signally 
rewarded (whenever observed) on the other, Imagina- 
tion set forth on airy wing, and brought home curiosi- 
ties which she called science, and observations which, 


because they contained some of that truth of which 
even fancies are seldom entirely deprived, blinded her 
to the perception of a much larger proportion of error. 

Two of these curiosities have made considerable 
noise, have been not a little damaging to the pecuni- 
ary interests of the medical profession, and have been 
proportionately species of El Dorados to the followers 
of them. We allude to the so-called Homeopathy and 

Homeopathy proceeds on an axiom that diseases 
are cured by remedies which excite an action similar 
to that of the disease itself: " Similia similibus cu- 

Our objection to this dogma is two-fold, and in the 
few hints we are giving, we wish them not to be con- 

1st. It is not proven. 

2d. It is not true. 

Take the so-called fever. The immediate and most 
frequent causes of fever are bad air, unwholesome food, 
mental inquietude, derangement of the digestive or- 
gans, severe injuries. Now it is notorious that very 
important agents in the cure of all fevers are good air, 
carefully exact diet, or temporary abstinence, and cor- 
rection of disordered functions, with utmost repose of 
mind and body, and so forth. 

So of small-pox, one of the most instructive of all 
diseases. All the things favorable to small-pox are 
entirely opposite to those which conduct the patient 
safely through this alarming disease; and so clearly is 
this the case, that, if known beforehand, its virulence 
can be indefinitely moderated so as to become a com- 
paratively innoxious malady. 


We might go on multiplying these illustrations to 
almost any extent. "What, then, is the meaning of the 
similia similibus curantur ? This we will endeavor, 
so far as there is any truth in it, to explain. The truth 
is, that Nature has but one mode, principle, or law in 
dealing with injurious influences on the body. Before 
we offer the few hints we propose to do on these sub- 
jects (and we can here do no more), we entirely repu- 
diate that sort of abusive tone which is too generally 
adopted. That never can do any body any good. We 
believe both systems to be dangerous fallacies, but, like 
all other things, not allowed to be entirely uncharged 
with good. We shall state, as popularly as possible, in 
what respect we deem them to be dangerous fallacies, 
and in what we deem them to be capable of effecting 
some good, because it is our object to show, in respect 
to both, that the good they do is because they acci- 
dentally, as it were, chip oft" a small corner of the prin- 
ciples of Abernethy. 

Homeopathy is one of those hypotheses which show 
the power that a minute portion of truth has to give cur- 
rency to a large quantity of error, and how much more 
powerful in the uninformed are appeals to the imagin- 
ation than to the intellect. The times are favorable to 
homeopathy. To some persons who had accustomed 
themselves to associate medical attendance with short 
visits, long bills, a gentleman in black all smiles, and 
a numerous array of red bottles, homeopathy must have 
addressed itself very acceptably. It could not but be 
welcome to hear that all the above not very pleasing 
impressions could be at once dismissed by simply swal- 
lowing the decillionth part of a grain of some efficacious 
drug. Then there was the prepossession so common 


in favor of mystery. How wonderful! so small a quan- 
tity! What a powerful medicine it must be! It was 
as good as the fortune-telling of the gipsies. There! 
take that, and then you will see what will happen next! 
Then, to get released from red bottles tied over with 
blue or red paper, which, if they were not infinitesimal 
in dose, had appeared infinite in number, to say noth- 
ing of the wholesome repulsion of the palate ! 

Besides, after the bottles came the bill, having, no 
doubt, the abominable character of all bills, which, by 
some law analogous to gravitation, appear to enlarge 
in a terrifically accelerating ratio in proportion to their 
longevity, so that they fall at last with an unexpect- 
ed and a very unwelcome gravity. Then homeopathy 
did not restrict itself to infinitesimal doses of medicine, 
but recommended people to live plainly, to relinquish 
strong drinks, and, in short, to adopt what, at least, 
seemed an approximation to a simple mode of living. 
To be serious — What, then, are the objections to ho- 
meopathy ? 

Is there no truth, then, in the dogma, "tiimilia si- 
milibus curantur?" We will explain. The laws gov- 
erning the human body have an established mode of 
dealing with all injurious influences, which is identi- 
cal in principle, but infinitely varied and obscured in 
its manifestations, in consequence of multifarious inter- 
ferences ; in that respect, just like the laws of light 
or gravitation. As we have no opportunity of going 
into the subject at length, we will give a hint or two 
which will enable the observing, with a moderate de- 
gree of painstaking, to see the fallacy. You can demon- 
strate no fallacy in a mathematical process even with- 
out some work, neither can you do so in any science; 


so let that absence of complete demonstration be no 
bar to the investigation of the hints we give. All med- 
icines are more or less poisons ; that is, they have no 
nutritive properties, or these are so overbalanced by 
those which are injurious, that the economy immedi- 
ately institutes endeavors for their expulsion, or for the 
relief of the disturbance they excite. All organs have 
a special function of their own, but all can, on occa- 
sions, execute those of some other organ. So, in carry- 
ing out injurious influences, organs have peculiar re- 
lations to different forms of matter — that is, ordinarily. 
Thus the stomach is impatient of ipecacuanha, and 
substances which we call emetics; the liver of merce- 
ry, alcohol, fat and saccharine matters, and so forth. In 
the same way, we might cite examples of other organs 
which ordinarily deal with particular natural substan- 
ces. Bnt then, by the compensating power they have, 
they can deal with any substance on special occasions. 
Now the natural mode in which all organs deal with 
injurious substances, or substances which tend to dis- 
turb them, is by pouring forth their respective secre- 
tions; but if, when stimulated, they have not the pow- 
er to do that, then they evince, as the case may be, dis- 
order or disease. Thus, for example: If we desire to 
influence the secretion from the liver, mercury is one 
of the many things which will do it; but if mercury 
cease to do this, it will produce disease; and, if carried 
to a certain extent, of no organ more certainly than 
the liver. Thus, again, alcohol in certain forms is a 
very useful medicine for the liver, yet nothing in con- 
tinuance more notoriously produces disease of that or- 
gan. So that it happens that all things which in one 
form disorder an organ, may in another form, in great- 


er or more continued doses, tend to correct that disor- 
der by inducing there a greater stimulation of its se- 

This is the old dogma, long before homeopathy was 
heard of, of one poison driving out another. This is 
the way in which fat bacon in one case may be a tem- 
porary or a good stimulant of a liver, which it equally 
disorders in another; for as the liver is a decarboniz- 
ing agent as well as the lungs, so articles rich in carbon 
are all stimulants of that organ, useful exceptionally, 
invariably disordering if habitual or excessive. 

But if this be so, what becomes of the "curantur?" 
To that, we say it is far from proven. Medicine hard- 
ly ever, perhaps never, strictly speaking, cures, but it 
often materially assists in putting people in a cura- 
ble condition proper for the agencies of more natural 
influences. True. Well, then, may not homeopathy 
be good here? We doubt it, and for this reason. 
Medicine, to do good, should act on the organ to which 
it is directed ; it is itself essentially a poison, and does 
well to relieve organs by which it is expelled ; but if 
you give medicine in very small doses, or so as to in- 
stitute an artificial condition of those sentinels, the 
nerves, you may accumulate a fearful amount of inju- 
rious influence in the system before you are at all 
aware of it ; and it is the more necessary to be aware 
of this in respect to homeopathy, because the medicines 
which many of these gentlemen employ are active pois- 
ons, as belladonna, aconite, and so on. We have seen 
disturbed states of nerves, bordering on paralysis, which 
were completely unintelligible until we found that the 
patient had been taking small doses of narcotic pois- 
ons. We have no desire whatever to forestall the 



cool decisions of experience, but we earnestly request 
the attention of the homeopathist to the foregoing re- 
marks ; and if he thinks there is any thing in them, 
to peruse the arguments on which we found the law 
of which we have formerly spoken.* 

We must in candor admit that, as far as the inquiry 
into all the facts of the case go, as laid down by Hahn- 
emann, we think the profession may take a hint with 
advantage. We have long pleaded for more accuracy 
in this respect, but we fear, as yet, pleaded in vain. 
Homeopathic influences may be perhaps more success- 
ful. Practically, the good that results from homeopa- 
thy, as it appears to us, may be thus stated : that if 
people will leave off drinking alcohol, live plainly, and 
take very little medicine, they will find that many dis- 
orders will be relieved by this treatment alone. 

For the rest, we fear that the so-called small doses 
are either inert, or, if taken so as to produce effect, in- 
cur the risk of accumulating in the system influences 
injurious to the economy, which the history of mercu- 
ry, arsenic, and other poisons show to be nothing un- 
common ; and, further, that this tends to keep out of 
sight the real uses and the measured influences of 
medicine, which in the ordinary practice, their usual 
effects serve, as the case may be, to suggest or demon- 

Practically, therefore, the good effects of homeopathy 
resolve themselves, so far as they are good, into a more 
or less careful diet, and small doses of medicine ; 
which, as we ha've said, is a chipping off of the views 
of Abernethy. 

* See " Medicine and Surgery one Inductive Science (the so-call- 
ed Law of Inflammation) " 


We regret we have no space to consider the relation 
of homeopathy to serious and acute diseases ; we can 
therefore only say that the facts which have come be- 
fore us have left no doubts on our minds of its being 
alike dangerous and inapplicable. 

One morning, a nobleman asked his surgeon (who 
was representing to him the uselessness of consulting 
a medical man without obeying his injunctions) what 
he thought would be the effect of his going into a hy- 
dropathic establishment. "That you would get per- 
fectly well," was the reply, "for there your lordship 
would get plain diet and good air, and, as I am in- 
formed, good hours — in short, the very things I rec- 
ommend to you, but which you will not adopt with 
any regularity." 

Hydropathy sets out, indeed, with water as its sta- 
ple, and the skin as the organ to which it chiefly ad- 
dresses itself ; but we take it that the hydropathic phy- 
sician, if he sees nothing in philosophical medicine, dis- 
covers sufficient in human nature to prevent him from 
trading on so slender a capital. There was, no doubt, 
in the imperfection of medical science a fine opening 
left for a scheme which proposed to rest its merits 
chiefly on an organ so much neglected. 

There has never been any thing bordering on a prop- 
er attention to the skin until recently, and even now 
any care commensurate with the importance of the or- 
gan is the exception rather than the rule. Thirty 
years ago, Abernethy, when asked by a gentleman as 
to the chance of a bathing establishment answering, 
said that the profession would not be persuaded to at- 
tend to the subject, and that, in respect to the capital 


which the gentleman proposed to invest in it, he had 
better keep the money in his pocket. This was said 
in relation to the general importance of attention to 
the skin, and also in connection with making it the 
portal for the introduction of medical agents generally. 
Abernethy was, in fact, the person who first introduced 
Lalonette's method of affecting the system by mercury 
applied in vapor. 

Hydropathy deals with a very powerful agent, and 
applies it to a very powerful and important organ, the 
skin; and it employs in combination the energetic in- 
fluences, temperature and moisture, so that we may be 
assured there will be very little that is equivocal or 
infinitesimal in its results — that in almost every case 
it must do good or harm. 

But it does not limit itself to these agencies. It has 
"establishments" — that is to say, pleasant rural re- 
treats, tastefully laid out gardens, plain diet, often, no 
doubt, agreeable society, rational amusements, and, as 
we understand, good hours, and abstinence from alco- 
hol. These are, indeed, powerful agencies for a vast 
variety of diseases; so that, if hydropathy be not very 
scientific, it is certainly a clever scheme; and as there 
are very many people who require nothing but good 
air, plain living, rest from their anxious occupations, 
and agreeable society, it is very possible that many 
hydropathic patients get well by just doing that which 
they could not be induced to do before. 

But here comes the objection : the skin is, in the first 
place, only one of the organs of the body, and it is in 
very different condition in different people, and in the 
same people at different periods. 

Tt has, like other organs, its mode of dealing with 


powerful or with injurious influences ; and if it deal 
with them in the full force of the natural law, it affects 
(and in disease almost uniformly) favorably the intern- 
al organs ; but, on the other hand, if there he inter- 
fering influences opposed to the health;/ exhibition of 
the natural law, so that the skin do not deal with the 
cold, or other agencies to which it is subjected, as it 
naturally should do, then the cold, moisture, or other 
agent increases the determination of blood to the intern- 
al organs, and does mischief. This it may do in one 
of two ways; we have seen both. 1st. The blood driv- 
en from the surface increases pro tanto the quantity in 
the internal organs ; it must go somewhere ; it can go 
nowhere else. Or, if cold and moisture produce not 
this effect, nor be attended with a reactive determina- 
tion to the surface, there may be an imperfect reaction, 
that is, short of the surface of the body. In the first 
case you dangerously increase the disorder of any ma- 
terially affected organ; in the latter you incur the risk 
of diseased depositions, as, for example, Tumors. "We 
here speak from our own experience, having seen tu- 
mors of the most malignant and cancerous character 
developed under circumstances in which it appeared 
to us impossible to ascribe the immediate cause to any 
thing else but violently depressing influences of hydro- 
pathic treatment of the skin with a co-existing disor- 
dered condition of internal organs. 

In one very frightful case indeed, the patient was 
told, when he first stated his alarm, that the tumor was 
a "crisis" or reaction, as sure enough it was, but it was 
the reaction of a cancerous disease which destroyed the 
patient, But, as we have said, hydropathy has many 
features which obviously minister very agreeably and 


advantageously to various conditions of indisposition, 
while they favor the observance of something like a 
rational diet; a point of immense consequence, and 
too much neglected in regular practice. Here again 
we speak from actual observation. One man lets his 
patient eat what he pleases. An eminent physician 
replied to a patient who, as he was leaving the room, 
asked what he should do about his diet, "Oh, I leave 
that to yourself ;" showing, as we think, a better knowl- 
edge of human nature than of his profession. Another 
restricts his patient to "any thing light." Others see 
no harm in patients eating three or four things at din- 
ner, "provided they are wholesome," thus rendering the 
solution of many a question in serious cases three or 
four times of course as difficult. Now we do not re- 
quire the elaborate apparatus of a hydropathic estab- 
lishment to cure disorders after such loose practice as 
this; and we do protest against the assertion that any 
such treatment can be called, as we have sometimes 
heard it, "Abernethy's plan, attention to diet," and so 

So far from any thing less than the beautifully sim- 
ple views held out by Abernethy being necessary, we 
trust that we have some of us arrived, as we ought to 
do, at several improvements. But people will confound 
a plain diet with a starving' diet, and, hating restric- 
tions altogether, naturally prefer a physician who is 
good-natured and assenting ; still, this assentation is 
being visited, we think, with a justly retributive reac- 

Hydropathy, in many points, no doubt, tends to ex- 
cite attention to the real desiderata; but it is never- 
theless imperfect and dangerous, because evidently 


charged with a capital error. It entirely tails in that 
comprehensive view of the relations which exists in all 
animals between the various organs, and on a sustained 
recollection and examination of which rests the safe 
treatment of any one of them. It is, therefore, unsafe 
and unscientific. Again, it is illogical, because it pro- 
ceeds, as regards the skin, on the supposed premise 
that it will obtain a natural reaction, a thing, in a 
very large number of cases, and those of the most se- 
rious kind, seldom to be calculated on. 

It is quite clear, therefore, that, so far as hydropathy 
does good, it effects it by the institution of diet, absti- 
nence from alcohol, country air, exercise, agreeable 
society, and we will suppose, in some cases, appropri- 
ate care of the surface, all of which are in a general 
sense beneficial to the nervous system and the digest- 
ive organs, the points insisted on by Abernethy. 

So long as the public are not better informed, and 
until medicine is more strictly cultivated as a science, 
they will necessarily be governed by their first im- 
pressions on their feelings, and so long as this is the 
case, fallacies can never be exposed except by the se- 
vere lessons of experience. The hope to reason suc- 
cessfully with those whose feelings induce them to 
adopt that which they too often decline to examine, is 
madness, and is just what Terence says of some other 
feelings : 

" Nihilo plus agas 
Quam sides operam ut cum ratione insanias." 

But although, therefore, we are neither hydropathists 
nor homeopathists, we begin to see in the very success 
of these things some good ; that the " great shadow of 
the evil" of a conjectural science will one day be re- 


placed by another example of the triumph of an in- 
ductive philosophy ; that the retiring confidence of the 
public will induce in us a more earnest and successful 
effort to give them a more definite science, and that, 
as Professor Smythe says, the " returning spring will 
no longer renew the honors of the one," while it will 
gradually evolve the development of the other. 

The efforts, too, which the profession are already 
making, though, as we humbly consider, not in the 
right direction, will certainly arrive in time at a path 
that is more auspicious. When we see the hydropa- 
thist looking so much to the skin, homeopathy leading 
people to think of quantities of medicine ; when, in 
the regular profession, we see one man restricting his 
views to one organ, another to another ; a third think- 
ing that every thing can only be learned by examina- 
tion of the dead, thus confounding morbid anatomy 
with pathology ; a fourth restricting his labors to the 
microscope, as if to discover laws by enlarging the ob- 
jects rather than his intellectual vision, still we can 
not but perceive that these isolated labors, if once con- 
centrated by unity of purpose and combined action, 
would be shadowing forth at least the outline of a re- 
ally inductive inquiry. 

Hydropathy and homeopathy are making powerful 
uses, too, of the argument a ad crumenam. Their profes- 
sors are amassing very large sums of money, and that is 
an influence which will in time probably generate exer- 
tions in favor of a more definite science. Still, medicine 
and surgery can not be formed into a science as long 
as men consider it impossible, nor can there be any 
material advance if they will persist in measuring the 
remedial powers of nature by their own power of educ- 


ing them — a presumption obviously infinitely greater 
than the veriest quack ever dared to indulge in. Well 
did Lord Bacon see the real difficulties of establishing 
the dominion of an inductive philosophy when he labor- 
ed so much in the first place to destroy the influence of 
preconceived opinions — idols, as he justly called them. 

You can not, of course, write truth on a page al- 
ready filled with conjecture. Nevertheless, mankind 
seem gradually exhausting the resources of Error : 
many of her paths have been trodden, and their mis- 
leading lures discovered, and by-and-by that of Truth 
will be well-nigh the only one left untried. In the 
mean time, we fear the science is nearly good enough 
for the age. The difficulty of advance is founded deep- 
ly in the principles of human nature. People know 
there are physical laws as well as moral laws, and they 
may rely on it that disobedience and disease, sin and 
death, are as indissolubly bound up with infractions 
of the one as well as the other. 

It is true there are many who have (however un- 
consciously) discovered that the pleasures procured by 
the abuses of our appetites are a cheat, and that per- 
manent good is only attained by obeying those laws 
which were clearly made for our happiness. 

Error has indeed long darkened the horizon of med- 
ical science ; and albeit there have been lightnings 
like coruscations of genius from time to time, still 
they have passed away, and left the atmosphere as 
dark as before. At length, however, there has arisen, 
we hope, a small but steady light, which is gradually 
diffusing itself through the mists of Error, and which, 
when it shall have gained a very little more power, it 
will succeed in dispelling. 



Then, we trust, Medicine will be seen in the grace- 
ful form in which she exists in nature — as a Science 
which will enable us to administer the physical laws 
in harmony with that moral code over which her elder 
sister presides; but, whenever this shall happen, Sur- 
gery will recognize as the earliest gleams of light shed 
on her paths of inquiry, in aid of the progress of sci- 
ence and the welfare of mankind, the honored contri- 
butions of John Hunter and John Abernethy. 


" Eheu fugaces Postume Postuma 
Labuntur anni ; nee pietas moram 
Rugis et instanti senectse 
Adferet, indomitique mortae." — Hor. 

How swiftly glide our flying years, 
Alas ! nor piety nor tears 

Can stop the fleeting day, 
Deep furrow'd wrinkles, frosting age, 
And Death's unconquerable rage, 

Are strangers to delay. — Francis. 

We have already observed that Abernethy had be- 
gun to feel the wear and tear of an anxious and active 
life, when, after a tenure of office for twenty -eight 
years as assistant, he was appointed surgeon to St. 
Bartholomew's Hospital. About this time he took a 
house at Enfield, where he occasionally went at leisure 
hours on Saturday, and as the Spring Course of Lec- 
tures came near to a conclusion and in the summer, 
pretty constantly on other afternoons. At this season 
he used to doff the black knee-breeches, silk stockings, 
and shoes, sometimes with, sometimes without short 


gaiters, and refresh one's rural recollections with drab 
kerseymeres and top-boots, in which costume he would 
at that season not unfrequently come down to lecture. 
He was fond of riding, and had a favorite mare he call- 
ed Jenny ; and many a time have we seen her jogging 
along on a fine summer afternoon, and her master look- 
ing as happy as any school-boy that he was going home 
and escaping from the botherations of Bedford Row and 
the smoke of London. 

Some years before this he met with what might have 
been a serious accident : in stooping forward, his horse 
threw up his head and struck him a violent blow on 
the forehead and nose — as Mr. Abernethy at first 
thought, breaking the bones of the latter. He rode 
up a gateway, and, having dismounted, was endeavor- 
ing to adjust the. bruise and staunch the blood, when 
some people ran to assist him, and, as he said, very 
kindly asked him if they should fetch him a doctor; 
but, said Abernethy, " I told them I thought they had 
better fetch me a hackney-coach," which they accord- 
ingly did. He was conveyed home, and in a short 
time recovered from the accident. 

His taking the house at Enfield was probably a pru- 
dent measure. He seemed to enjoy it very much, and 
especially in getting a quiet friend or two down on the 
Saturday to stay over till the Monday, among whom 
a very favorite visitor was our respected friend, Mr. 
Clift, of whom we have already spoken. Abernethy 
had always, however, had what he used aptly enough 
to term a fidgety nervous system. From early life he 
had been annoyed by a particularly irritable heart. 
The first time he ever suffered materially from it was 
while he was yet a young man. He had been exceed- 


ingly depressed by the death of a patient in whose case 
he had been much interested, and his heart became 
alarmingly violent and disordered in its action. He 
could not sleep at night, and sometimes in the day it 
would beat so violently as to shake his waistcoat. He 
was afterward subject to fugitive returns of this com- 
plaint, and few, unless by experience, know how dis- 
tressing such attacks are. 

We suspect that surgeons are more frequently thus 
affected than is generally supposed. A cold, half-bru- 
tal indifference is one thing, but a calm and humane 
self-possession in many of our duties is another, and, 
as we saw in Cheselden, not obtained always without 
some cost ; the effects of this sometimes appear only 
when the causes have ceased to recur, or are forgotten. 
A lively sensibility to impressions was natural to Aber- 
nethy, but this susceptibility had been increased by 
the well-known influence of the air and excitement of 
crowded cities on people who are engaged in much 
mental exertion. His physical organization, easily sus- 
ceptible of disturbance, did not always shake it off 
again very readily. At one time he suffered an un- 
usually long time from the consequences of a wound 
in dissection. 

These not uncommon accidents occur perhaps a 
hundred or a thousand times without beins followed 
by any material results ; but if they happen in disor- 
dered conditions of health, either of mind or body, they 
are sometimes serious affairs, and usually of a more or 
less active kind — that is, soon terminating in death or 
recovery. Not so in Abernethy. The complaint went 
through various phases, so that it was nearly three 
years, he used to tell us, before he fairly and finally 


got rid of the effects of it. One of the most difficult 
things for a man who was so actively engaged in a pro- 
fession in London, as Abernethy was, is to get the req- 
uisite quantity of exercise, while the great mental ex- 
ertion which characterizes a London, as distinguished 
from almost any other kind of life, requires that the 
digestive organs should be "up to" pretty good living. 

Then, again, Abernethy lived in the days of port 
wine, when every man had something to say of the 
sample his hospitality produced of this popular bever- 
age. Abernethy, who was never intemperate, was very 
hospitable, and always selected the finest port wine he 
could get, which, as being generally full and powerful, 
was for him perhaps the least fitted. 

Mr. Lloyd, of Fleet Street, who was one of the old- 
fashioned family wine-merchants, and one of the best 
men of his day, was the purveyor of his Falernian, and 
never was there a more correct application of nomen- 
clature than that which gave to him the title, by which 
he was best known, of " Honest John Lloyd." He was 
one of the kindest-hearted men I ever knew; he had a 
great regard for Mr. Abernethy ; and was treated him- 
self by almost every body as an intimate friend. One 
day I went there just as Abernethy had left. " Well," 
says Mr. Lloyd, " what a funny man your master is!" 
" Who ?" said I. " Why, Mr. Abernethy. He has just 
been here, and paid me for a pipe of wine; and threw 
down a handful of notes, and pieces of papers with 
fees. I wanted him to stop to see if they were right; 
'for,' said I, 'some of these fees may be more than you 
think, perhaps.' 'Never mind,' said he, 'f can't stop; 
you have them as I took them,' and hastily went his 


Sedentary habits, however, as people now begin to 
find, do not harmonize well with great, mental exer- 
tion, or constant and anxious occupation. In 1817, 
Abernethy felt his combined duties as surgeon to the 
hospital, as lecturer there, and also at. the College, be- 
coming too onerous, and therefore in that year he, re- 
signed the Professorship. On this occasion, the Coun- 
cil sent him the following unanimous expression of 
their appreciation of his services. 

At the Court of Assistants of the Royal College of Sur- 
geons, in London, holden at the College on the 15th 
day of July, 1817, Resolved unanimously, 
" That the thanks of this Court be presented to John 
Abernethy, Esq., for the series of Lectures delivered by 
him in the theatre of this College in the years 1814, 
1815, 1816, 1817, with distinguished energy and per- 
spicuity, by which he has elucidated the physiological 
and pathological opinions of John Hunter, explained his 
design in the formation of the Hunterian Collection, 
illustrated the principles of surgery, and thereby has 
highly conduced to the improvement of anatomical and 
physiological knowledge, the art and science of surgery, 
and to the promotion of the honor of the College." 

This seems to have gratified him, as, under all the 
circumstances, we can readily understand it might do, 
and he accordingly replied to it as follows: 

"to the master, governors, and council of the royal 
college of surgeons. 
"Sir and Gentlemen, — To obtain the good opinion 
of others is a universal object of human actions, and 


we often strive to acquire it by circuitous and absurd 
means; but to obtain the approbation of eminent and 
judicious characters by pursuing the direct path of 
professional duty is the most gratifying mode of seek- 
ing and receiving this object of general ambition. 

"I have ventured to premise these observations to 
show you, gentlemen, that I do not write inconsider- 
ately, or merely as a matter of form, when I thus re- 
turn you my warmest thanks for the distinguished 
honor you have conferred on me by your public appro- 
bation of my endeavors* to discharge the duties of an 
arduous office, to which I was elected through your 
kindness and confidence. 

"I have the honor to remain, Sir and Gentlemen, 
your very grateful and obedient servant, 

"John Abernethy." 

We insert in this place a letter which he wrote about 
this time to Sir William Blizard, because it shows two 
things which are characteristic: the one, how constant 
he was in not allowing any considerations to interfere 
with the lectures; and the other, the endurance of his 
old attachment to Sir William Blizard. It is an apol- 
ogy for not having been present at the Council. 

" Dear Sir William, — I was yesterday desired to 
see a patient residing seven or eight miles. from Lon- 
don. I could not go that day, for it was lecture even- 
ing; I can not go to-morrow, for the same reason; con- 
sequently I must go this evening. I hope you will con- 
sider these circumstances as an apology for my absence 
from the Board. 

* Underscored in the original. 


"If you cite my example* as one misleading future 
professors, be so good as to remember that I retired, 
leaving the task which I had undertaken incomplete, 
wherefore it became necessary to explain publicly to 
an indulgent audience my motives for resigning the 

"I remain, dear Sir William, yours unremittingly, 

"John Abernethy." 

Abernethy had at various periods of his life been 
subject to an inflammatory sore throat of a very active 
kind, which would on some days impede so as almost 
to prevent his swallowing, -and then suddenly termin- 
ate in abscess, leaving him perfectly well again. He 
was young when these sorts of attack began, as in his 
lectures he used to speak of one of them having sub- 
sided only the night before he had some lectures to de- 
liver before the Council of the College, when they were 
accustomed to meet in the Old Bailey. 

The disposition, however, to disorder of the digestive 
organs, and the tendency to the termination in inflam- 
mation of the mucous membrane of the throat, as he 
advanced in life, began to affect other structures, and 
he became teased and subsequently greatly tortured by 
rheumatism. This term — which is a kind of general 
name for various conditions of joints extremely differ- 
ent from each other — is in many cases, as we all know, 
extremely painful, and is never more excruciating than 
when parts thus conditioned are affected by spasms. 
These spasms were a source of much acute suffering 
to Abernethy. His constant occupations gave him no 

* Apparently alluding to the impression it might create that such 
a course was necessary. 


opportunity of relieving himself from work, except there 
was that accommodation of indisposition to convenient 
times, which of course seldom happens. 

In the earlier parts of his life, Abernethy, when he 
was out of health, would take the first opportunity 
which his occupations allowed of going a little way 
into the country, and there, by diet, and amusing him- 
self by reading and exercise, he would soon get well. 
But as he advanced in life, he was not so ready to at- 
tend to himself as perhaps he ought to have been. Be- 
sides, he would sometimes do things which incurred 
unnecessary risks, which we ourselves would sometimes 
venture to mention to him. 

Living at the time to which we are now alluding in 
Ely Place, and attending his lectures long after we had 
commenced practice, we frequently walked down with 
him to lecture, sometimes in the rain, when we used to 
think his knee breeches and silk stockings looked most 
uncomfortable. Besides this, he was very careless about 
his umbrella; I never recollect him on such occasions 
calling a coach, and I hardly ever knew him come 
down to his evening lecture in his carriage. He gen- 
erally came down to the two o'clock lecture some min- 
utes before the time ; and as he complained at that 
time of cold feet, he would stand opposite one of the 
flue openings in the Museum. One day I ventured to 
suggest to him that the transition of temperature to 
the cold place he occupied in the theatre rendered this 
hardly prudent, when he said "Ay!" and moved away. 
Though temperate, without being very particular in his 
diet, these imprudences were unfortunate, because we 
saw him every year almost becoming troubled more 
and more by his painful visitor. The time, however, 


was now arriving when he was about to resign the sur- 
geoncy of the hospital. 

We have seen that when elected to that appointment 
he had been no less than twenty-eight years assistant 
surgeon; he, however, took no pains to indemnify him- 
self for this long and profitless tenure of a subordinate 
post, but, mindful of what he had himself suffered, im- 
mediately on his appointment he did the best he could 
at once to provide against others being subjected to such 
an unrequited service. He accordingly, on his elec- 
tion, addressed a letter to the governors of the hospital, 
of which we regret that we have not a copy. Our friend 
Mr. Lloyd, a friend and favorite pupil of Abernethy's, 
had a copy, and ha*d kindly found it and laid it aside 
for us, but unfortunately again mislaid it, and it can 
not be found ; neither is there a copy of it on the books 
of the hospital. 

The object of the letter was to recommend some al- 
terations in the arrangement of the duties of the sur- 
geons of the hospital, and, among other things, that they 
should resign at the age of sixty, with a retiring salary. 
Nothing could, we think, be more just or considerate 
than such a proposal, and it came very well from Aber- 
nethy, who had just stepped into the lucrative appoint- 
ment. The proposal, however, was not acted on; and 
it would appear that his successors, however much they 
may have at the time approved of the precept, have not 
been in haste to follow Abernethy's example. There 
is little doubt that Abernethy's proposal was as just 
and considerate of the interests of all parties as it was 
in favor of those of science. We can not think that 
any one who considers the matter without prejudice 
can be of any other opinion. 


The absence, however, of any law on the subject, 
made no difference to Abernethy ; he had expressed his 
own intention of resigning at the age of sixty, and when 
that time arrived he accordingly did so. The govern- 
ors, however, would not on that occasion accept his res- 
ignation, but requested him to continue. This he did 
for about another year, when, in 1827 — having been 
elected in 1815 — he finally resigned the hospital in the 
following letter, addressed to the president of the Hos- 

" St. Bartholomew's Hospital, July 24, 1827. 
"Finding myself incompetent to discharge the du- 
ties of surgeon to your hospital in a satisfactory man- 
ner, and having led my junior to believe that I should 
resign my office at a certain period of my life, I hereby 
tender my resignation accordingly. At the same time, 
I beg leave to assure the Governors of my gratitude 
for their appointment to the offices which I have held 
under them, and for the good opinion and confidence 
which they have manifested toward me. I annex a 
draft for £100 for the use of the hospital. 

" I am, dear Sir, your obedient servant, 

"John Abernethy. 

"To Rowland Stephenson, Esq." 

At the next meeting of the " Court" of Governors, 
it was proposed by Dr. Latham, and seconded by Mr. 
Wells, and unanimously resolved, 

"That this Court accept with great regret the resig- 
nation of Mr. Abernethy as one of its Surgeons, an of- 
fice which he has discharged with consummate ability 
for forty years ; and the Court offers him their best, 


their most unanimous, and warmest thanks for his very 
long and important services. 
" July 25, 1827." 

There is something significant in this vote of thanks, 
merging his long period of assistant surgeon in the 
general expression of his services as surgeon. It is 
very suggestive of the influence which had been felt, 
from the presence of his master mind, although so long 
in a position which necessarily restricted its useful en- 
ergies in regard to hospital matters. We have little 
doubt that, had Abernethy become surgeon to the hos- 
pital at a time of life when his physical energies were 
unimpaired, he would have suggested many improve- 
ments on the system ; but with little real power in that 
quarter, and with men who were opposed to him, he 
was just the last man in the world to commence a cru- 
sade against the opinions of those with whom he was as- 
sociated. The moment he became surgeon, we see him 
endeavoring to remove an evil from which he had great- 
ly suffered, and which is obviously a most undesirable 
state of things, viz., that men should so often arrive at 
a post in which their active energies are most required 
at a time of life when those energies have been perhaps 
necessarily addressed to other objects, weary with hope 
deferred, or already on the wane. 

He was also very averse to so spacious a portion of 
the hospital being devoted to the festive meetings of 
the Governors ; and on showing it, would sometimes 
go so far as to say, "Ay, this is what I call the useless 
portion of the hospital." He continued to lecture an- 
other year, when he resigned the lectures, and in 1829 
his appointments at the College of Surgeons also. 


In May, 1829, he, wrote to Mr. Belfour, the Secretary 
of the College of Surgeons (whose politeness and atten- 
tion in facilitating our inquiries at the College we are 
happy thus publicly to acknowledge) as follows : 

"My dear Sir, — Early in April the thermometer was 
above 70°, and I had so violent a relapse of rheumatism, 
that I have not been able (nor am I now able) to leave 
this place since that. time. Apologize to the President, 
therefore, for my non-attendance on Monday. Entre 
nous, as I think I shall not be able to perform the du- 
ties of those situations which I now hold at the College, 
I think of resigning them; yet I will not decide till I 
have talked with Clift* upon that subject, and have 
heard your opinion upon it. If he could come down this 
or the following Saturday, I should be glad to see him. 

"I remain, my dear Sir, yours very sincerely, 

"John Abernethy. 
"Enfield, May 21. 
"To Edmund Belfour, Esq." 

He accordingly, in July of 1829, resigned his seat at 
the Court of Examiners, when the following Memorial 
was sent him by the Court of Examiners. 

At the College, at the Court holden on Friday, the 
17th of July, 1829. 

Present : Mr. Thomas, President ; Mr. Headington, 
Mr. Keate, Vice-Presidents ; Sir William Blizard, Mr. 
Lynn, Sir A. Cooper, Bart., Sir A. Carlisle, Mr. Vincent, 
and Mr. Guthrie. 

Resolved, that the following memorial he entered in 
the minutes of this Court: 

* Our excellent Conservator at that time, of whom we have already 
spoken, and a great favorite of Abernethy's. 


" Conscious of having been enlightened by the sci- 
entific labors of Mr. Abernethy ; convinced that teach- 
ers of anatomy, physiology, and of surgery (and conse- 
quently their pupils) have derived most important in- 
formation from these sources of knowledge; and im- 
pressed that the healing art has been eminently ad- 
vanced by the writings of that excellent individual, 
the members of the Court of Examiners lament the 
tendered resignation of an associate so endowed, and 
whose conduct in the Court has always been so exem- 

" Resolved also, that a copy of the foregoing memorial 
be delivered by the Secretary to Mr. Abernethy." 

He had by this time become a great sufferer — walk- 
ed very lame ; and this difficulty, interfering more than 
ever with his exercise, no doubt tended to make mat- 
ters worse. He consulted nobody, I believe, but his 
old friend Dr. Roberts, of St. Bartholomew's. He was 
induced to go for some time into the country ; and on 
his return, hearing that he was again in Bedford Row, 
and not having seen him for some time, I called on him 
one morning about eleven o'clock. 

I knew that he had been very ill, but I was not in 
the least prepared to see him so altered. When I was 
shown into his room, I was so struck with his appear- 
ance that it was with difficulty I concealed the emo- 
tion it occasioned; but I felt happy in observing that 
I had succeeded. 

He appeared all at once, as it were, to have become 
a very old man ; he was much thinner ; his features 
appeared shrunk. He had always before worn a good 
deal of powder ; but his hair, which used to hang 


rather thickly over his ears, was now thin, and, as it 
appeared to me, silvered by age and suffering. 

There was the same expressive eye which I had so 
often seen lit up by mirth or humor, or animated by 
some more impassioned feeling, looking as penetrating 
and intellectual as ever, but with a calmness and lan- 
guor which seemed to tell of continued suffering, and 
which I had never seen before. He was sitting at a 
table on a sort of stool, as it appeared to me, and had 
been seeing patients, and there were still several wait- 
ing to see him. On asking him how he was, the tone 
of his reply was very striking. 

It was, indeed, the same voice which I had so often 
listened to with pleasure, but the tone was exceedingly 
changed. It was the subdued character which is ex- 
pressive of recent suffering, and sounded to me most 
mournfully. "Ay," said he, "this is very kind of you 
— very kind indeed !" and he somewhat distressed me 
by repeating this several times, so that I hardly knew 
what to reply. He said he was better, and that he 
could now walk pretty fairly again, " as," said he, 
"you shall see." 

He accordingly slowly dismounted from his seat, 
and with the aid of two sticks began to walk, but it 
was a melancholy sight to me. I had never seen him 
nearly so lame before. 

I asked him what he was going to do ; he said that 
he was going to Enfield on the morrow, and that he 
did not think he should return. I suggested that he 
might possibly try a drier air with more advantage ; 
that I feared Enfield might be a little low and damp, 
and not, possibly, the best place for him. "Well," he 
said, " any thing is better than this." I very shortly 


after took my leave, not sorry to be again alone, for I 
felt considerably depressed by the unexpected impres- 
sions I had received from this interview. It was too 
plain that his powers were rapidly waning. He went 
to Enfield on the following day (a Wednesday, I think), 
and never returned again to practice. He lingered 
about another year, during which time I once went to 
see him, when I found him something better. He 
was able to see his friends occasionally, and at times 
seemed to rally. In the spring, however, of 1831, he 
gradually got weaker, and died on the 20th of April in 
that year. 

He perfectly retained his consciousness to the last, 
and, as I understood, died as tranquilly as possible. 
There was nobody in the room with him at the mo- 
ment but his servant, to whom he said, "Is there any 
body in the room ?" His servant replied, " No, Sir." 
Abernethy then laid his head back, and in a few sec- 
onds expired. His body was not examined ; but from 
the history and symptoms of his case, there could be 
little doubt that there would have been found organic 
changes in which the valvular structures of the heart 
had more or less participated. 

He was buried in the parish church of Enfield. The 
funeral was a private one ; and there is a plain tablet 
on the wall over his grave, with the following inscrip- 
tion : 

H. S. E. 

















APRILIS DIE 20, a.u. 1831. JETATIS SU M 67. 



"Est enim animus caelestis et quasi demersus lnterram locum di- 
vine naturae asternitatique contrarium." — Cicero. 

It has been stated by an acute observer that it was 
impossible for any man to be with Abernethy, even for 
a short time, without feeling that he was in commun- 
ion with no common mind ; and it was just, I think, 
the first effect he produced. In person he was of mid- 
dle stature, and well proportioned for strength and act- 
ivity. He had a most interesting countenance : it 
combined the character of a philosopher and a philan- 
thropist, lighted up by cheerfulness and humor It 
was not that his features were particularly well formed 
or handsome, though he had not a bad one in the 
whole countenance ; but the harmony of composition 
(if we may be allowed the expression) was so perfect. 

A sufficiently high and ample forehead towered over 
two of the most observant and expressive eyes I almost 
ever saw. People differ about color ; they appeared to 
me always of a grayish-blue, and were characterized 
as the rule by a mirthful yet piercing expression, from 



which an overlaying of benevolence was seldom want- 
ing; yet, as we have before observed, they would 
sometimes lance forth gleams of humor, anger, or pa- 
thos, as the case might be, which were such as the 
term dramatic can alone convey. 

There was another expression of his eye which was 
very characterises : it was when his benevolence was 
excited without the means of gratifying it, as would 
sometimes happen in the case of hospital patients, for 
whom he wanted good air, and things which their po- 
sition did not allow them to procure. He would in 
this case step a pace or two from the bed, throw his 
head a little aside, and, talking to the dresser, exhibit 
an expression of deep feeling, which was extremely pe- 
culiar ; it was a mixture of suffering, of impatience, 
and sympathy ; but the force the scene drew from the 
dramatic character of his expressive countenance is en- 
tirely lost in the mere relation. Then, if he gave ut- 
terance to a few words, they were always extremely 
touching and expressive. On an occasion, for exam- 
ple, like the following, these characters were combined. 
A woman came into the hospital to have an operation 
performed, and Abernethy, as was his invariable cus- 
tom, took some time to get her health into a more fa- 
vorable condition. Having so far succeeded, the day 
was at hand when tin; operation was to be performed, 
when the dresser informed him that she was about to 
quit the hospital. 

"Why, my good woman," said Abernethy, "what a 
fool you must be to come here to have an operation 
performed ; and now, just as you are in a fit state for 
it, to go out again." Somebody here whispered to 
him that her father was dying in the country. With 


a burst of indignation, his eyes flashing fire, he turned 
to the dresser and said, "You fool, why did you not 
tell me this before?" Then, after a moment or two 
looking at the patient, he went from the foot up to the 
side of the bed, and said, in the kindest tone possible, 
"Yes, my good woman, you shall go out immediately ; 
you may come back again when you please, and I 
will take all the care I can of you." 

Now there was nothing in all this, perhaps, but his 
manner gave it immense force ; and I remember one 
of the old pupils saying to me, "How kind he was to 
that woman ; upon my soul, I could hardly help cry- 

Abernethy exemplified a very rare and powerful com- 
bination of intellectual qualities. He had a perception 
of the facts of a subject at once rapid, penetrating, and 
comprehensive, and a power of that kind of analysis 
which immediately elicits their more important rela- 
tions to the immediate objects of the investigation, a 
power, of course, of the utmost value in a practical 

This faculty was never more marvelously displayed 
than sometimes in doubtful or difficult cases, and this 
had been always a striking excellence in him, even 
when a young man. I recollect hearing my father 
say, that to see Abernethy to advantage, you must ob- 
serve him when roused by some difficulty, and in a 
case where other men were at fault or puzzled. It 
was just so ; his penetrating mind seemed to remove to 
either side at once what was foreign or doubtful, and 
go straight to the point with which alone he had to 
grapple. Allied to this, if not part of it, was that sug- 
gestive power which he possessed in so remarkable a 


degree, and which, by a kind of intuition, seemed to 
single out those pertinent relations and inquiries which 
the judgment is to examine, and reject or approve, as 
the case may be — a faculty absolutely necessary to 
success in endeavors at extending the boundaries of a 
science. He was thus sometimes enabled, as we have 
seen, to convert facts to the highest purposes, in aid 
of practical improvement, which, with an ordinary ob- 
server, would have passed unnoticed. 

These qualities, combined with a memory, as we 
have seen, peculiarly ready, capacious, and retentive, 
placed his means at once at hand for practical applica- 
tion. Then, while his quick perception of relation al- 
ways supplied him with abundant analogies, his im- 
aginative faculty enabled him to illustrate, enforce, and 
adorn them with such a multitude and variety of illus- 
tration as seemed well-nigh inexhaustible. 

Of his humor we have already spoken; but the samo 
properties which served him so well in more important 
matters were really, as it appears to us, the foundation 
of much of that humor by which his conversation was 
characterized — we mean his quick perception of rela- 
tion, and his marvelously retentive memory. Many of 
the things that he said "told," not because they were 
original so much as that they were ready at hand ; not 
because they were intrinsically good as so apposite in 
application; and, lastly, because they were further as- 
sisted by his inimitable manner. Nevertheless, some- 
times his quick perception would be characterized by 
a corresponding felicity of expression. Those who re- 
member the magnificent voice, and peculiar chaste 
style of Bartleman, the celebrated singer, who was an 
intimate friend of Abernethy's, will appreciate the just- 


nests of the expression applied to him when he said, 
"Bartleman is an orator in music." 

There is no doubt that he had the talent of convey- 
ing by his manner, and apparently without the small- 
est effort, that which in the drama is scarcely known 
but as the result of constant and careful study. It 
was a manner which no analysis of his character can 
convey, of which none of his own compositions even 
give an adequate idea. The finest colors are often the 
most fugitive. This is just the case with that height- 
ened expression which we term dramatic. Who can 
convey in mere words the thrilling effect that an earn- 
est, heart-felt expression of a single phrase has some- 
times conveyed. But, brilliant as these endowments 
were, they were graced by moral qualities of the first 

Quick as he was to see every thing, he was neces- 
sarily rapid in his perception of character, and would 
sometimes, at a glance, hit on the leading influence of 
this always difficult assemblage of phenomena with 
the same rapidity that marked his dealings with facts 
which were the more immediate objects of his profes- 
sional inquiries. But, though quick in his perception 
of character, and therefore rapidly detective of faults, 
his views were always tempered by generosity and 
good sense. Indignant at injustice and oppression, and 
intolerant only of baseness or cruelty, he was kind and 
charitable in his construction of more common or ex- 
cusable failings. 

He loved man as his brother, and with enlarged 
ideas of the duties of benevolence, never dispensed it 
as a gift which it was creditable to bestow, so much 
as an obligation which it would have been immoral to 


have omitted. It was not that he did any thing which 
the world calls noble or great in giving sums of money 
to this or that person. There were, indeed, plenty of 
instances of that sort of generosity and benevolence, 
which would creep out in spite of him, from those 
whom he had benefited ; and no man knew how to do 
it better. A gentleman, for example, came up from 
the country to the school, and went to Bedford Row to 
enter the lectures. Abernethy asked him a few ques- 
tions about his intentions and his prospects, and found 
that his proceedings would be a little doubtful, as they 
were contingent on the receipt of some funds which 
were uncertain. Abernethy gave him a perpetual 
ticket to all his own lectures ; " and what made so 
much impression on me," said the gentleman, " was 
that, instead of paying me less attention, in asking me 
to his house, than the other pupils, if there was any 
difference, he paid me rather more." We have seen 
this gentleman within a few days, and we are happy 
to say he has had a happy and prosperous career. 

The benevolence, however, to which we allude, was 
not merely giving or remitting money; that, indeed, 
would be a marvelously overcoming of the world with 
many people, but not with Abernethy ; his benevolence 
was no fitful suggestion of impulse, but a steadily flow- 
ing principle of action, which was never obtrusive, but 
was always ready when required. It has been said a 
good man's life is a constant prayer. It may be as- 
serted that a good surgeon's life should be a gentle 
stream of benevolent sympathies, supporting and ad- 
vancing the conscientious administrations of the duties 
of his profession. That this really intrinsic part of his 
character should have been occasionally overlaid by 


unkindness of manner is, indeed, much to be regretted, 
and, we believe, was subsequently deplored by no one 
more sincerely than himself, and those who most loved 
and respected him. The faults of those to whom we 
are indifferent are taken as matter of course, but the 
errors of those who are the objects of our respect and 
affection are peculiarly distressing. We feel them al- 
most as a personal wrong; and in a character like 
Abernethy, where every spot on so fair a surface be- 
came luminously evident, such faults gave one a feel- 
ing of mortification which was at once humiliating and 
oppressive. While, therefore, we are the last to conceal 
his faults, we can not but think he was, after all, him- 
self the greatest sufferer; we have no doubt they orig- 
inated at least in good motives, and have been charged, 
after all, perhaps, with much good. 

Unfortunately, we have at all times had too many 
Gnathos in our profession — too much of the 

" Quidquid dicunt laudo, id rursum si negant laudo id quoque, 
Negat quis ] nego ait 1 aio." 

These assenting flatteries are the bane of an honest 
man, and under the name of fact, and the influence of 
an uncompromising ambition to get on, merge the high- 
est duties into a desire to please, and, adopting the creed 
of Gnatho, appropriately arrive at the tame climax as 
their conclusions. 

" Postremo imperavi egomet mihi omnia assontari." 

Now Abernethy knew this well, and detested it with 
a repulsion deep and sincere. He had no knowledge 
of G-nathonics. He felt that he was called on to prac- 
tice a profession, whose legitimate object was alone 
achieved when it ministered to real suffering, and that 
mere assentation to please patients was a prostitution 


of the highest qualities of mind to the lowest purposes. 
If one may so say, he felt like a painter who has a feel- 
ing for the highest department of his art, and who could 
see nothing in an assenting Ofnathonicism but an im- 
moral daub. 

Neither was this without some use to others ; for 
-though he looked, as the public may be assured many 
others do, on a "parcel of people who came to him with 
nothing the matter," yet even in his roughness he was 
discriminate, and sometimes accomplished more good 
than the most successful assentator by all his lubricity. 
One day, for example, a lady took her daughter, evi- 
dently most tightly laced, a practice which we believe 
mothers now are aware is mischievous, but scarcely to 
the extent known to medical men. She complained 
of Abernethy's rudeness to her, as well she might ; 
still he gave her, in a few words, a useful lesson. 
"Why, Madam," said he, "do you know there are up- 
ward of thirty yards of bowels squeezed underneath 
that girdle of your daughter's? Go home and cut it ; 
let Nature have fair play, and you will have no need 
of my advice." 

But if we must acknowledge and regret, as we do, 
his occasional rudeness of manner, let us also give him 
the credit of overcoming these besetting impulses. In 
all Hospitals, of course, there are occasional vexations, 
but who ever saw Abernethy really unkind to a hos- 
pital patient ? Now we can not affirm any thing be- 
yond our own experience. We had, as dresser, for a con- 
siderable period the care of many of his patients, and 
we continued frequently to observe his practice from 
the commencement of our pupilage, which was about 
a year or a little more after his appointment as sur- 


geon until the close of his hospital labors. We speak 
subject to correction, therefore, but we can not charge 
our memory with a single instance of unkindness to a 
hospital patient, while we are deeply impressed by the 
constant prevalence of a generally kind and unaffected 
sympathy with them. 

The quickness with which he observed any imper- 
fection in the execution of his directions was, on the 
contrary, the source of many a "rowing," as we ap- 
prehend some of his dressers well enough remember, 
while he seldom took a dresser without making more 
than usual inquiries as to his competency. In private 
practice, also, any case that really required skill and 
discrimination was pretty sure to meet with the atten- 
tion that it deserved. This was noticed in the re- 
marks made on the character of Abernethy at the time 
of his death by the Duke of Sussex, at the Royal So- 
ciety, of which the following is a report, copied from 
the books of the Society : 


His Royal Highness observed that "Mr. Abernethy 
was one of those pupils of John Hunter who appears 
the most completely to have caught the bold and philo- 
sophical spirit of his great master. He was the au- 
thor of various works and memoirs upon physiological 
and anatomical or surgical subjects, including papers 
which have appeared in our Transactions. Few per- 
sons have contributed more abundantly to the estab- 
lishment of the true principles of surgical and medical 
science in those cases which require that minute criti- 
cism of the symptoms of disease, upon the proper 

S 2 


knowledge and study of which the perfection of medi- 
cal art must mainly depend. 

"As a lecturer he was not less distinguished than as 
an author ; and he appears to have attained the art of 
fixing strongly the attention of his hearers, not less by 
the just authority of his opinions, than by his ready 
command of apt and forcible illustrations. He enjoy- 
ed, during many years of his life, more than an ordi- 
nary share of public favor in the practice of his profes- 
sion, and though not a little remarkable for the eccen- 
tricities of his manner, and an affected roughness in 
his intercourse with his ordinary patients, he was gen- 
erally kind and courteous in those cases which required 
the full exercise of his skill and knowledge, and also 
liberal in the extreme when the infliction of poverty 
was superadded to those of disease." 

The high character of his benevolence was shown 
also in the ready forgiveness of injuries, and he was as 
grateful as he was forgiving. How constant his at- 
tachment to his early friend and teacher, Sir William 
Blizard ! There is something very characteristic of 
this when in the decline of life he writes "Yours un- 
remittingly" to one whose unusually lengthened years 
had enabled him to witness Abe.rnethy's entry into 
life, and at the conclusion of the labors of his distin- 
guished pupil, to join with a public body in express- 
ing the high sense entertained of the obligations which 
he had conferred on science and on mankind. Few 
men could have been placed in positions more trying 
than that in which he found himself in his controversy 
with Mr. Lawrence. "When, however, the time arrived 
at which, in the ordinary course, that gentleman would 
have been elected into the Council of the College, there 


was a very strong feeling on the part of some of the 
members against his election. Abernethy proposed 
him himself, and it was by his casting vote that the 
election terminated in that gentleman's favor. 

A member of the Council having expressed his sur- 
prise that Mr. Abernethy should propose a gentleman 
with whom he had had so unpleasant a difference, 
"What has that to do with it?" rejoined Abernethy. 
Some friends of Mr. Lawrence wished to pay that gen- 
tleman the compliment of having his portrait drawn, 
and a subscription was to be entered into for that pur- 
pose. It was suggested that it would be, very desira- 
ble to get Mr. Abernethy to allow his name to be in 
the list ; and our friend Mr. Kingdon,* with the best 
intentions, no doubt, ventured to ask Mr. Abernethy to 
put his name at the head of the list. But there was 
nothing of Quixotism in Abernethy. He would have 
been very glad to do a kind thing to any body, and 
any obstacle affecting him personally was much more 
likely to be an argument in favor than otherwise. He 
liked justice for its own sake, but he was circumspect 
as well as penetrative. At first he seemed inclined to 
do it, but he asked a day to consider of it, and then 
wrote the following letter, into a more particular ex- 
amination of which wc need not enter : 

" 1828-9. 

" My dear Sir, — ' Fiat Justitia' 1 is, as I flatter my- 
self, the rule of my conduct. At all times have I ex- 
pressed my approbation and respect for William Law- 
rence on account of his professional learning, and of 

* An old and respected pupil of Abernethy's, whose merits as an 
excellent man and kind-heated professional brother we are happy 
thus publicly to acknowledge. 


his ability as a writer and public speaker. But if I do 
what you would have me, I shall do much more, and 
be made to appear as a leader in a scheme, the object 
of which is indefinite ; so that persons will be at liber- 
ty to put what construction they please upon my con- 
duct. Being desirous of doing what you wish, I have 
been for some time in a state of perplexity and hesita- 

" At length I have resolved, that since I can not de- 
termine what ought to be done, to follow a useful rule 
of professional conduct, and to do nothing. Vexed to 
refuse you any thing, I hope that you will still believe 
me, my dear Sir, your obliged and very sincere friend, 

"John Abernethy." 

As a companion, Abernethy was most agreeable and 
social, in the true sense of the word ; that is, not gre- 
garious. Naturally shy, numbers neither suited his 
taste nor his ideas ; but the society of his family, or a 
lew social friends with whom he could feel unreserved, 
was his greatest pleasure. 

On such occasions, when in health, he would be the 
life and joy of his circle. There never was, perhaps, any 
one more ministered to by an enduring affection while 
living, nor in regard to whose memory the regrets of 
affection had been more combined with the hallowing 
influences of respect and veneration. At home, he 
would sometimes be as hilarious as a boy ; at other 
times he would lie down on the rug after dinner, and 
either chat or sleep away the short time that his avo- 
cations allowed him to give to that indulgence. Oc- 
casionally he would go to the theatre, which he some- 
timos enjoyed very much ; like his brother, he was a 


great lover of our immortal Shakspeare, and scarcely 
less familiar with most of the wonderful creations of 
his mighty genius. 

When we contemplate Abernethy in a single phase 
only of his character, we see a " fidgety" physical or- 
ganization, influencing an irritability of character of 
which it was too much a supporter if it were not the 
original cause ; but the moment we penetrate this thin 
and only occasional covering, we meet with nothing 
but rare and splendid endowments; and as we pro- 
ceed in our examination, we are at a loss which most 
to admire, the brilliant qualities of his intellect, or the 
moral excellences of his heart. 

But in estimating the one or the other, we must 
view them in relation to the other feelings with which 
they were accompanied, as impeding or assisting their 
development and application, or otherwise we shall 
hardly estimate in its due force the powers of that vo- 
lition over which the moral sense so constantly pre- 

Abernethy had considerable love of approbation — a 
quality which, in its application to the Divine Being, 
all others may be said to terminate; but it is a qual- 
ity which, in its too common application, is apt to di- 
lute the character, and bring down the mind from the 
contemplation of more elevated motives to the level of 
those more suited to more immediate fruition afforded 
by worldly conventionalisms. To one shy even to ti- 
midity, and whose organization fitted him rather for 
the rapid movements of a penetrative and impulsive 
perceptivity than the more dogged perseverance of sus- 
tained labor, love of approbation, even in the ordinary 
application of it, might have been a useful stimulus 


in maintaining exertion, and we believe it was. Yet, 
though he avowed it as a dominant principle in our 
nature, as the great "incentive" to human action, he 
never sought it but by legitimate channels; nor, po- 
tential as its influences might have been, when sharp- 
ened by shyness and timidity, did he hesitate one mo- 
ment to throw them all aside whenever the interests 
of truth or justice rendered it necessary. 

When Mr. Hunter's views were little noticed, less 
understood, and apparently in danger of being forgot- 
ten ; when the more speculative of his views were not 
even known as his by any published documents; when, 
therefore, in addition to other objections, he was, as we 
have seen, subjected to the imputation of advocating 
opinions as Hunter's of which there were no other 
proofs than the precarious testimony of contemporaries, 
he stood boldly forward as the fearless, earnest, and 
eloquent advocate of John Hunter. In this cause he 
overcame his natural dislike to contest and publicity, 
and encountered just that individualizing opposition 
which is most trying to a sensitive organization, ex- 
emplifying a rare tribute of truth and justice paid by 
genius to the claims of a departed brother. At the 
same time, the power he displayed of moulding views, 
scarcely even acknowledged, into the elementary be- 
ginnings of little less than a new science, strikingly 
testifies the superiority of his intellectual power. 

While, however, he advocated John Hunter's views, 
and, with a creative spirit, made them the basis of ad- 
ditional structures which were emphatically his own, 
we find him modestly reverting again and again to 
John Hunter, as if afraid of not awarding him his just 
due, and forever linking both the early bud afforded by 


Hunter's inquiries, and the opening blossom afforded 
by his own, with the imperishable efforts of his distin- 
guished master, exemplifying the modesty of genius, 
and how superior it is, when guided by virtue, to any 
but the most exalted motives. 

Another example of his independence of mind, and 
of his conquest over difficulty when the interests of 
truth appeared to him to render it necessary, was the 
manner in which, in defiance of ridicule and all sorts 
of opposition, he advocated his own views — with ulti- 
mate success, it is true, but obtained only through a 
variety of difficulties, greatly exacerbated by his natu- 
rally shy, if not timid organization. Still, amid all his 
brilliant endowments, we feel ourselves fondly revert- 
ing to the more peaceful and unobtrusive efforts with 
which he daily inculcated the conscientious study of 
an important profession. 

That he had faults is of course true, but they were 
not the faults of the spirit so much as of the clay-bound 
tenement in which it resided — not so much those of 
the individual man as those necessarily allied to hu- 
manity. The powerful influences of education had not 
been very happily applied in Abemethy ; its legitimate 
office is no doubt to educe the good, and suppress the 
evolution of bad qualities. In Abernethy, we can hard- 
ly help thinking that his education was more calcu- 
lated to do just the contrary. " To level a boy with 
the earth" because he ventured on "a crib" to the 
Greek Testament, is, to say the least of it, very ques- 
tionable discipline for a shy and irritable organization. 
To restore to its original form the tree which has been 
bent as a sapling, is always difficult or impossible. 

But in virtue of those beneficent laws which " shel- 


ter the shorn lamb," Abernethy was allowed ultimate- 
ly, in spite rather than in consequence of his educa- 
tion, to develop one of the most benevolent of disposi- 
tions. To this was joined a powerful conscientious- 
ness, which pervaded every thing he did, and which 
could hardly be supported but by sentiments of relig- 
ious responsibility ; and we believe that his mind was 
deeply imbued with the precepts of a vital Christian- 
ity, that took the most practical view of his duty to 
Grod and to his neighbor; and in the very imperfect 
sense in which human nature has ever attained to 
the full obedience of either, he regarded a humblo 
and practical observance of the one as the best human 
exposition of the other. His favorite apophthegm on, 
all serious occasions, and especially in those parts of 
his profession where its guidance was most required, 
was the divine precept of doing to others as we would 
wish done to ourselves. His ancestors had been emi- 
nent divines, and one of them a distinguished writer, 
and had attached themselves to what I believe is un- 
derstood by the term " High Order of Unitarians;" but 
I have no reason to believe that Abernethy differed 
from those tenets which are held by the Church of 

In concluding this very imperfect sketch of a very 
difficult character, we have merely endeavored to give 
our own impressions. We can not help thinking that 
Abernethy has left a space which has not as yet been 
filled ; it would be presumptuous to say that it wilt 
long continue so. In his life he has left us an excel- 
lent example to follow, nor has it been less useful in 
teaching us that which we should avoid. 

While among us, as he taught us how to exercise 


some important duty, he would occasionally, by way 
of exception, endeavor to impress matters of detail, by 
showing first how they should not be done. His life 
instructs us after the same manner. In all serious 
matters we may generally take him as a guide ; in oc- 
casional habits, we may most safely recollect that faults 
are no less faults — as Mirabeau said of Frederick — be- 
cause they have the " shadow" of a great name ; and 
we believe that, were it possible, no good man would 
desire to leave a better expiation of any weakness than 
that it should deter others from a similar error. This 
is the view we would wish our young friends to take 
of the matter. We can not all reach the genius of 
Abernethy, but we may be animated by the same spirit. 

If great men are endowed with powers given only to 
the few, their success generally turns on the steady ob- 
servance of the more homely qualities which are the 
common property of the many — caution, circumspec- 
tion, industry, and humility. Again, genius is often 
charged with weaknesses by which mere ordinary 
minds are unfettered or unembarrassed. We may em- 
ulate the justice, the independence of mind, the hu- 
manity, the generosity, the modesty, and, above all, 
the conscientiousness of Abernethy in all serious cases, 
without withholding from the more ordinary and light- 
er duties of our profession a due proportion of these 
feelings, or necessarily laying aside that forbearance 
and courtesy which must ever lend an additional grace 
to our various duties. 

We may endeavor, with all our power, to avoid a 
disgraceful flattery and assentation without replacing 
them by contrasts which, though not equally mischiev- 
ous, we may be assured are equally unnecessary, while 


we may, in our various stations, emulate his kindness, 
his constancy as a husband, father, and friend, and yet 
not refuse a becoming share of such endearing qualities 
to others, from any fear that we may be subject to mis- 

We may remember that intellect alone is dry, cold, 
and calculating ; that feeling, unsupported or uncon- 
trolled, is impulsive, paroxysmal, and misleading ; and 
that the few rare moments of moral excellence which 
human nature achieves are when these powers combine 
in harmony of purpose and unity of action. 

We may be assured that, however much we may ad- 
mire that rapid and searching perceptivity ; that sound, 
acute, and comprehensive judgment which Abernethy 
brought to bear on the study of the profession ; or the 
honorable, independent, generous, and humane manner 
in which he administered its more important and seri- 
ous duties, that the greatest, and, for good, the most 
potential influence of all, was the manner in which ho 
employed multiplied and varied excellences as a teach- 
er in infusing a truly conscientious spirit into the num- 
bers whom, as pupils, he sent forth to practice in all parts 
of the world. This is still an unknown amount of ob- 
ligation. Those resulting from his works may be prox- 
imately calculated, and such as are necessarily omit- 
ted in a review essentially popular may be chronicled 
hereafter in a more suitable manner ; but as a teach- 
er, we can not as yet calculate the amount of our obli- him. They are only to be estimated by re- 
flection, and by recollecting the moral influence of ev- 
ery man who honestly practices an important profession. 

Finally, whether we think of the interests of the pub- 
lic, the profession, or those of each as affecting each 


other, or of both as affecting the progress of society, 
we shall, I think, be disposed to agree with one of our 
most distinguished modern writers, that the "means 
on which the interests and prospects of society most 
depend are the sustained influence that invariably at- 
tends the dignity of private virtue." 



Retrospect, page 1. 

Progress of Discovery, 1, 2. 

Galileo, Bacon, Kepler, Berzelius, 
Davy, &c, 2, 4. 

Discovery, Result of combined Ef- 
fect, 4. 

Of Physiological Laws, 4, 5. 

Meaning of Events not seen at the 
Time, 5, 6. 

Clear Ideas of what is deficient, 6. 

First Step in enlarging a Science, 6. 

False Ideas concerning Medical Sci- 
ence, 8, 9. 

Birth of Abernethy, 9. 

Its Relation to Hunter's Labors, 9. 

Abernelhy's Family, 10. 

Goes to School, 11. 


School Life, 12. 

Predictions of Character often Erro- 
neous, 12. 

Dryden, Swift, Sheridan, 12, 13. 

Galileo, Newton, Wren, 13. 

Individually of Abernethy, 14. 

School-fellows, 14, 15. 

Their Reminiscences, 15-19. 

Leaves School, 1778, and returns to 
London, 19, 20. 


Mistakes in Choice of Professions, 
20, 21. 

Of Success, Steadiness, Industry, 21. 

Industry of Abernethy, 22. 

His Inclination for the Bar, 22. 

His Powers of Memory, 23. 

Becomes a Pupil in Surgery, 24. 

Apprenticed to Sir C Blicke, 24. 

Of Apprenticeship, 25, 26. 

Sir Charles Blicke, 26, 27. 

Abemethy's early Disposition to Sci- 
entific Inquiry, 27, 28. 

Attends the Lectures of Sir William 
Blizard and Mr. Pott, 29. 


Sir William Blizard, 29. 

Abemethy's Views of Anatomy, 30. 

Anatomy chiefly interesting as a Key 
to Physiology, 31. 

Abemethy's grateful Recognition of 
early Precepts from Sir William 
Blizard, 31, 32. 

Incentives to Study, 33. 

Abernethy at the London Hospital, 
33, 34. 

Modes of Teaching Anatomy, 34. 

Demonstrates for Sir William Bli- 
zard, 35. 

Attends Mr. Pott's Lectures, 35, 36. 

A large London Hospital, 36. 
Trait of Abernethy, 37. 
Disease a great Leveler. 37. 
Money can not buy Every Thing, 

Elected Assistant Surgeon, 38. 
Important Epoch in his Life, 39. 
His Position, 40. 

Lectures in Bartholomew Close, 41. 
His Education as a Lecturer, 41. 
Becomes a Teacher, 42. 
Care necessary in youthful Labor, 42. 
His Lectures soon attractive, 43. 
Importance of comparative Anatomy, 

43, 44. 
His Zeal and Industry, 44-46. 
The celebrated Dessault, 46. 
Shyness of Abernethy, 46, 47. 
Increased Attractions of his Lectures, 

The new Theatre, 1791, 47. 


Change, 48, 49. 

Changes in our own Bodies, 49, 50. 
Vegetables grown on Flannel, 51. 
Leeches kept in distilled Water, 51. 
Experiments on Rabbits. Chickens 
and Eggs, 52, 53. 



Of the ultimate Particles of Matter, 

53, 54. 
His Reflections thereon, 54. 

section I. 
Dissection of a Whale, 54, 55 
Absorbent Vessels in the Whale, 55, 

Of Glands, 57, 58. 


Curious Cases, 58. 

Deviations from the Natural Struc- 
ture, 58, 59. 

Combination of Natural Laws, 60. 

Their Import in Natural Theology, 60. 

Dissection, how formerly supplied, 
60, 61. 

Curious Relations of the Heart and 
Liver, 61-63. 

Of the Public Aversion to the Inspec- 
tion of the Dead, 63, 64. 


Armstrong the Poet, 64. 

Of Pain, 65. 

Of painless Diseases, 65, 66 

Of an insidious Malady, 66. 

Abernethy's Essay on Lumbar Dis- 
ease, 67. 

Principles of his Plan, 67. 

Abernethy's Plan misunderstood, 68, 

Misinterpreted by Sir A. Cooper, 69. 

Real Objects of the Plan, 70. 

Suggested by an Accident, 71. 

His Essay on the Skin and Lungs, 71. 
Advance of Chemistry, 72-74. 
Caution in chemical Reasoning, 74. 
Respiration — what? 74,75. 
Object of his Inquiry, 75. 
Function of the Lungs, 76. 
Of the Lungs and Skin, 77. 
Of the covering of Animals, 77. 
Of the color of Animals, 78. 
Clothing of Birds, 78, 79. 
Variety of their Color, 79. 
Of Respiration by the Skin, 80. 
Sanctorius,Cruikshank, Edwards, 80 

Experiments, 81. 
His Experiments in Quicksilver, 82 

Experiments in Water, 83. 
Questionable Views of Carbonic Acid, 

Carbonic Acid, how formed, 84, 85. 
Experiments in Carbonic Acid, 86. 

Absorption by the Skin, 86. 
Experiments on his own Lungs, 86, 

Immense Surface of the Skin, 87, 88. 
Relation of Skin and Lungs, 88, 89. 
Relation of Lungs and other Organs, 

Connection of Lungs with Organs, 90. 
His Remarks on Consumption, 90, 91. 
On its Treatment, 91. 
What Kind of Investigation required, 

The present State of Medicine, 92. 

His Remarks on Tic Douloureux, 92. 
Sufferings of Tic Douloureux, 93. 
Division of Nerve Case, 94, 95. 
Of the Nervous System, 95. 


Bleeding, 97. 
Its Frequency, 98. 
Comparative Infrequency, 99. 
Occasional Accidents, 99. 
His Cautions important, 100. 
His rising Reputation, 101. 
His Reputation at the Hospital, 101. 
Third Part of " Physiological Es- 
says," 102. 


His clear Penetration, 102. 

Pierre Joseph Dessault, 103, 104. 

Dessault and Ahernethy, 105. 

Their Solution of a Difficulty, 105, 106. 

Abernethy's improved Practice in In- 
juries of the Head, 106-108. 

General Excellence of this Paper, 
109, 110. 

Importance of Recording Facts, 110. 

Experiments on Irritability, 110, 111. 
Of Galvanism, 111, 112. 
Object of Abernethy's Experiments, 

Observations on Frogs, 113, 114. 
Of the Respiration of Fish, &c, 115 
Experiment on the Blood, 115, 116. 
On the Temperature of Animals, 116 

A few Remarks on Experiments on 

Living Animals, 117. 
Claims of Physiology, 117, 118. 
Experiments on Animals questioned 


Those of Orfila inconclusive, 119, 120 
Orfila— Charles Bell, 120. 


43 J 

Physiology a Science of Observation, 

Abernethy's Disapproval of Experi- 
ments on Living Animals, 122, 123. 

Absence of Cruelty necessary, that 
the Reasoning may be clear, 123, 

Coincidence of Moral and Scientific 
Objects, 124. 


His Remarks on Tumors, 125. 

The Object of his Arrangement, 126. 

Simplicity of Ins Plan, 126, 127. 

Importance of Names, 127. 

His Arrangement, 127, 128. 

Hasty Removal of Tumors, 128, 129. 

Defects of Plan, 129, 130. 

Popular Illustration, 130, 131. 

Of Analogies in Vegetables, 131, 132. 

Great Importance of the Subject, 132. 

His Success, 133. 


Occasional curious Results of 

Wounds of the Lungs, 134. 
His Remarks on Nam, 135, 136. 
Avoidance of unnecessary Excision, 

Value of his "Surgical Cases," 136. 
Hunter's celebrated Improvement, 

Abernethy's early Extension of it, 

Of minute Holes in the Heart, 138, 

Moves to Bedford Row, 139. 


Abernethy's Marriage, 140. 

Of Apophthegms, 141. 

Table-Turning, 141, 142. 

How Eccentric, 142. 

Common Sense, 143. 

His Difficulty, 143, 144. 

Writes a Note, 144. 

Married at Edmonton, 144. 

Lectures on the same Day, 145, 146. 

Of his Work called " My Book," 147. 
Expansion of his Views, 147, 148. 
Slow Progress, 148. 
Imperfect Study of his Views, 149. 
Importance of Simple Facts, 149. 
Misconstruction of bis Views, 150. 
Mr. Hunter, 151. 
Popular Illustration, 152. 
Facts observed by Mr. Hunter, 152, 

Remarks on his Audience, 153. 

Impressions on Abernethy, 153, 154. 

On a great Evil, 155. 

Consequences of it, 155. 

Evils of imperfect Induction, 155, 156. 

Important Inferences, 156. 

Importance of Names, 157. 

Evils of partial Investigation, 158. 
Illustrations of his Views, 159. 
Clearness and Precision of his Re- 
marks, 160, 161. 
Misconception of his Views, 161. 
Whence they originated, 162. 
Popular Illustrations, 163, 164. 
Simple Nature of Odors, 165. 
Vigilance of the Stomach, 165, 166. 
Abernethy's Illustrations, 166, 167. 
Of accurate Investigation, 167, 168 
Its essential Elements, 168. 


" My Book" continued, 168, 169. 

Conduct of the Mind in Scientific In- 
vestigation, 170. 

Influence ol Digestive Organs in Inju- 
ries of the Head, 171. 

Influence oi Digestive Organs in so- 
called Specific Diseases, 172, 173. 

Of Specific Poisons, 173, 174. 

A suggestive Case, 174, 175. 

Affections of continuous Surfaces, 

Interesting Resulls, 175. 176. 

Affect the Mind also, 177. 

Mr. Boodle, 177, 178. 

Value of Abernethy's Principles, 178. 

Recapitulations, 179. 

Uncertainty of Medicines, 179, 180. 

Causes of Failure explained, 180. 

Causes of Failure examined, 180, 181. 

Explanation of Phenomena, 181, 182. 

How Nature deals with injurious In- 
fluences, 182-184. 

General Consequences, 184, 185. 

Of secondarily-affected Organs, 185, 

Importance of Primary Organs, 186, 

And of Discrimination, 187. 

What Caution necessary, 187, 188. 

Author's Obligations to Abernethy, 

188, 189. 

Impressions produced by " My Book," 

189, 190. 

Slow Diffusion of his Principles, 190, 

Reminiscences of Old Fupils, 191. 
His increasing Practice, 191, 192. 
Importance of Patients understanding 

those consulted, 192, 193 



Sir James Earie, 193, 194. 
Anecdote, 194. 


Retrospect, 195. 

Varied Currents of human Affairs, 

196, 197 
Smooth Water, 197. 
High estimate of Abernethy, 197, 198. 
Scientific Character of his School, 

Attended by Pupils of other Schools, 

Plate presented by Pupils, 199. 
Pupils subscribe for a Portrait, 200. 
Mr. Stanley's Demonstration, 201. 
Painful Impressions in Prospect, 202. 
Trials, 202, 203. 

Lincoln's Inn Fields, 203, 204. 
College of Surgeons, 204, 205. 
Huntenan Museum, 205, 206. 
Mr. Clift. 206, 207. 
Selection of Lecturers, 207, 208. 
Abernethy appointed in 1814, 208. 
Use of Hypothesis in expressing our 

Ideas, 208-210. 
Abernethy's correct Interpretation of 

Hunter, 210. 
Abernethy's additional Illustrations, 

Illustrations not Opinions, 212. 
Unexpected Consequences, 212, 213. 


Comparison made by Lord Bacon, 213. 

Of Fearlessness and Humility, 213, 

Of the Effects of Controversy, 214. 

Bacon — Pope — Addison, 215. 

Abernethy — Lawrence, 215. 

Mr. Lawrence's Exordium, 216, 217. 

Its comprehensive Fidelity, 217. 

Mr. Lawrence's first Lecture, 217, 

Mr. Abernethy in Relation to the Opin- 
ions advocated, 218, 219. 

Personal Application by Lawrence 
of Abernethy's Observations, 220, 

Oiners engage in the Discussion, 221. 


Review of the Controversy, 221, 222. 
Difficulty of Abernethy's Position, 

Discussions of the Pupils, 223. 
Difficulty of Abernethy's Position, 


Of Tendency as an Argument, 224, 

Abernethy's Moderation, 225, 226. 
Of the Poverty of Language, 226. 
Of the Conduct of the College, 227. 
Of imputed Skepticism, 227-229. 
Alleged Neglect of the Sabbath, 229, 

Conduct of the College, 230. 
Apathy of the College, 230, 231. 
Abernethy's Moderation, 231, 232. 


Abernethy's Style of Lecturing, 232, 

Of Extracts from Lectures, 233. 
Extracts from Lectures, 233-252. 


Abernethy as a Teacher, 253. 

Communication of Ideas, 253. 

Of Simplicity, 254. 

Of unnecessary Technicalities, 255, 

Some Lectures very technical, 250. 
An Example, 256, 257. 
A Sentence from Abernethy, 257. 
Of Tricks— Good Breeding, 257, 258. 
Vulgarity, 258, 259. 
Abernethy's Freedom from, 259. 
Of Quantity, 259, 260. 
Of metaphorical Language, 260. 
Mode of impressing Facts, 260, 261. 
Anecdote of Dr. T. Rees, 261. 
Of his Stories, 262. 
His dramatic Power, 262, 263. 
Anecdote, 263, 264. 
Of the Pathetic— Anecdote, 264, 265. 
Tone of Voice never Declamatory, 

266, 267. 
Inconveniences of Declamation, 267. 
Of Sympathy with the Student, 268. 
Of Order — favorite Passages, 268. 
His Liveliness, 269. 
Importance of Liveliness, 270. 
His successful Manner, 270, 271. 
In referring to Adaptation, 271, 272. 
Inconvenience of Marvelousness, 272. 
Of the Passion or Feelings, 272, 273. 
Of sensual Illustrations, 274. 


Abernethy's Humor, 274, 275. 

Anecdote, 275-277. 

His Self-possession, 277. 

Of his general Tone, 278. 

Salutary Impressions, 278, 279. 

Gentleness, 279, 280. 

Its Importance, 280. 

An important Improvement, 280, 281 



General Effects of his Lectures, 281 
His negative Excellence very great, 
281, 282. 


Of Immoralities of Trades, &c, 282. 
Of Habit and Fashion, 282, 283. 
Of conventional Morality, 283. 
Influence of Fashion, 284. 
Honesty the hest Policy, 284, 285. 
Of public Credulity, 285. 
Of legal Practice, 285. 
Mischief of conventional Morality, 

Examples of, 287. 
Illustrations of Conduct, 287-289. 
Decision of doubtful Operation, 289. 
Moral Influence of Abernethy, 289, 



Of Consultation, 290-293. 

Of Differences of Opinion, 293, 294. 

Consultation, 294-297. 


Abernethy in Consultation, 297-305. 
Anecdote, 306, 307. 
Abernethy in Consultation, 307, 308. 
Modesty and Sense of Justice, 308, 

Abernethy's Extension of Hunter's 

Operation for Aneurism, 309, 310. 
Abernethy in Consultation, 310-313. 

Of Manner, 313-316. 
Of "Abernethy's Manner, 316. 
His Rouirhness and Benevolence, 316, 

Anecdotes, 317-319. 
His Liberality, 319, 320. 
Anecdote, 320. 
His Humanity. 321. 
Poor Gentlemen, 321-323. 
Anecdote, 323. 
Of operative Dexterity, 324. 
Of operating, 325, 326. 
A Hoax, 326, 327. 
Of Anecdotes generally, 327 
Of nis Manner, 328. 
Self-government, 328, 329. 
Of publishing Lectures, 329, 330. 
Extract from a Letter, 330, 331. 


Appointed Surgeon to St. Bartholo- 
mew's in 1815. 331, 332 
Ageing at Fifty, 332 

The Hospital System, 332-338. 
Of Operations, 338, 339. 
Of Chloroform, 339. 
Operations — John Hunter, 339-341. 
Hospital System resumed, 311. 
Of Apprentice Qualification, 341-344. 
Of accurate Records, 345. 
Of Division of Labor, 345. 
Hospital System a Failure, 346. 


Hospital System a Failure, 347. 

Abernethy and the System, 348. 

Professor Owen— Cuvier, 348-352. 

Hospital Altercations, 352-354. 

Mr. Stanley, 354-356. 

Sir Astley Cooper in Illustration of 
the System, 356, 357. 

Unsatisfactory Results of the Hospi- 
tal System, 357, 358. 

Sir Charles Bell, 358. 

The Hospital System, 359. 

Of our Obligations to Abernethy, 360, 

John Hunter, 361, 362. 
Hunter — Abernethy, 363. 
Hunter and Abernethy, 363-366. 
Obligations to Abernethy, 366-375. 


Of our Position and Prospects, 376. 
Of Evils and their Correction, 376- 

Signs of public Distrust, 378, 379. 
Astuteness of Quackery, 379. 
Impressions on the Public, 379-381. 
Homeopathy — Hydropathy, 381. 
Homeopathy, 381-387. 
Hydropathy, 387-392. 
Hopes and Predictions, 392-394 

Wear and Tear, 394. 
His Country Dress, 394, 395. 
House at Enfield, 395. 
His irritable Heart, 395, 396. 
Wounded in Dissection, 396. 
Resigns his Professorship, 398. 
Receives Thanks of the Council, 398. 
His Reply, 398, 399. 
Letter to Sir W. Bhzard, 399, 400. 
Suffers from Rheumatism, 400. 
Of Illness in Medical Men, 401- 
Walking to the Lecture. 401 
Resigns the Hospital, 403 
His Resignation, 403 



Vote of Thanks, 403, 404. 

Of his proposed Improvements, 404. 

Letter to Mr. Bellour, 405. 

Memorial addressed to him, 405, 406. 

An Interview, 406-108. 

His Death, 408. 

Tablet to his Memory, 408, 409. 


| Of his Character, 409. 
Impressions of his Character, 410- 

Remarks of the Duke of Sussex, 418, 
Impressions of his Character, 418- 






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Accession no. 



Macilwain, George 
ilemoirs of John 

Call no. 


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